Safety: another victim of the recession?

Stuck In Traffic by Ed Kant

This morning on my way back from my usual morning coffee run, I saw something that really upset me.

There was a tree trimmer set up on Orange Blossom Drive (OBD about midway between Airport Road and Goodlette Road). If you are not aware, OBD is a one lane road from just west of the County Office/Library complex until its terminus at Goodlette Road. This operation consisted of an overhead “basket” (a small platform mounted on an articulated arm) for one of their trimmers with the arm stuck out over the travel lane and several people on the ground moving in and out of traffic to collect the droppings from the tree trimming. There was barely enough room to pass. In addition, there was a sign at one end of their project indicating “Men Working Ahead” and another at the opposite end indicating “Left Lane Closed Ahead” – on a one-lane road! They did have several small beat-up cones placed near the articulated basket machine, but nothing farther than about 100’ from the work area.

OK, why am I complaining about this? For starters, it is considered standard practice in the construction industry to set up a work zone that insures the safety of both the workers and the traveling public, including pedestrians and bicyclists. In this case, it appeared that there was almost a complete disregard for anyone other than the foreman on the job who must have been ordered to get it done quickly.

No one was wearing any personal protective clothing (bright reflective vests). This type of vest is specifically made, and required by the County, to aid motorists in seeing workers in the road and to aid workers in the road from being hurt or fatally injured. In addition, there are standard requirements for traffic control – signs, protective devices such as cones, flaggers) in all work zones, whether or not there is paving or other “heavy” work or just landscape operations.

I called the County’s Road and Bridge Department, Right-of-way Permitting Section, and spoke with a very knowledgeable man. He confirmed that the County is still requiring all contractors, including County landscape maintenance contractors, to comply with all County regulations. In this case, he promised to look into it personally – if he could find a hole in his schedule. A quick check of the organization chart on the County’s web site indicates that the County has only four positions for right-of-way inspectors, one of which is vacant. In addition, the supervisor position for that section is also vacant. One of the three positions is dedicated to FDOT rights-of-way under an agreement with FDOT, leaving two people to inspect all of the ongoing roadway operations in the County. Two people for over 1500 miles of roadway!

One would think that with all of the unemployment and down-sizing that is prevalent these days that safety would not be forced to take a hit along with economy. I still know many of the County’s Transportation Division employees and they are uniformly dedicated and knowledgeable about their responsibilities. The issue that I have is with the management priorities in this crazy world in which we now live. I see evidence of lack of concern about public (and personal) safety almost on a daily basis. At the same time, I see areas of county government that appear to have an excess of personnel in a sparse work environment. I do not blame any person for wanting to keep their job, but perhaps if there was better management understanding of the importance of safe operations, there might be a shift in assignments and additional training to assure that both the workers and the public were not placed in jeopardy by a contractor or another individual that wanted to shortcut to save time or money.

Unfortunately, the landscapers and tree trimmers will continue to place themselves and motorists in danger until both they and the County take their safety responsibilities seriously.

Is it just me, or is anyone else concerned?

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