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Loss Control Insights for Public Sector

Roadside Safety for First Responders

police looking at crash

Working near moving vehicles is always dangerous, but adequate training and advance planning can make roadside work safer for everyone involved. A recent webinar on highway safety for first responders, presented by EMC partner Lexipol in conjunction with the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, highlights some key steps.

Train Early and Often
Roadway incident safety training is especially important for new recruits and volunteers, but should also be reinforced regularly for all first responders. What you cover will be unique to your agency’s function, but here are some items that are generally included. Lots of free training on these topics is available for first responders, so make sure you’re taking advantage of those resources.

  • Hazard Awareness — First responders often underestimate the danger of working near traffic. Talk about how often first responders are hit by vehicles and include information about “D drivers” (drunk, drugged, drowsy, disgruntled, distracted) to make sure your staff understands the threat.
  • Practices and Procedures — Standard Operating Plans (SOPs) and/or Standard Operating Guidelines (SOGs) for responding to roadside incidents should be documented to make sure everyone is working from the same playbook.
  • Scene Size-Up and Reports — In the event of a roadside incident, the first arriving unit on the scene should report traffic-related details such as which lanes of the roadway are affected or which lanes they will be blocking off.
  • Communications and Terminology — If you have multi-lane highways in your jurisdiction, explaining the location of an incident can easily get confusing (“it’s the second lane over from the left not including the merging onramp…I think”). Many agencies manage this by creating a standard lane numbering system to keep everyone on the same page.
  • Emergency Vehicle Positioning — How will you protect your scene and all the first responders, victims and property inside of it? Talk about ways to shield the scene without creating additional issues for other motorists.
  • Personal Protective Equipment — OSHA requires all emergency response personnel to wear high-visibility vests while operating at roadway incidents unless they are actively exposed to flames or heat (i.e. fighting a fire) or are actively involved in a hazardous materials incident.
  • Temporary Traffic Control and Devices — Explain how traffic control devices such as cones, signs and flares should be deployed to give motorists advance warning or your operations. Do you have a process for putting them out and taking them down safely?

Get Your Partners Involved in Planning
An important step in making roadside operations safer is getting all local agencies together for some pre-planning. Once a quarter or once a half is a good frequency. Invite representatives from all agencies that you expect to be involved with roadway incidents:

  • Law enforcement
  • Fire/Rescue
  • EMS
  • 911 dispatchers
  • Safety service patrols (“highway helpers”)
  • DOT and public works
  • Towing and recovery
  • Medical examiner

Use your time together to create an organized approach to roadway response. Planning ahead can help eliminate the command and control confusion that could leave first responders vulnerable to traffic.

  • Critique recent incidents to evaluate response and discuss improvements
  • Look for conflicts between agency SOPs/SOGs that might decrease safety during the incident
  • Talk about common terminology (NIMS has helped with this)
  • Incident command systems/Unified command
  • Apparatus and vehicle placement
  • Temporary traffic controls
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Plan multi-discipline training opportunities
  • Establish and reinforce relationships

Control Traffic Effectively with Blocking and Signage
Position first arriving vehicles in a way that protects the scene — this is called “blocking.” The specifics of your blocking will vary depending on what vehicles are responding and what the call is for. A safety service patrol placement will be different than an EMS unit responding to a medical assist call or a patrol car on a traffic stop. Many incidents use fire apparatus as a block to protect incident scenes because of their size and visibility. Parking blocking vehicles at an angle can help motorists see that the vehicle is stopped and not moving.

By blocking the lane of travel upstream of the incident, you can guide moving traffic away from the scene. You’ll also want to make sure you provide adequate advance warning to motorists that the expected traffic pattern is changing ahead. Advance warning techniques have long been used in roadway construction, but first responders are now recognizing the value of roadside scene strategies in keeping people safe. These are useful not just on high speed highways, but also in any roadway area where you might not be easily seen by drivers.

Clear the Scene Quickly
Ideally, you should attempt to get everyone and everything away from the roadway as quickly as possible to minimize disruption to traffic and the chances of a secondary incident.

  • Move It or Work It — can the incident be moved out of travel lanes to a safer area?
  • TRIP plans — towing and recovery incentive programs can encourage faster removal of stranded vehicles
  • Plan to do all work tasks concurrently whenever possible to shorten time on-scene
  • Use the unified command and incident action plans you have created with your partner agencies
  • Release any units that aren’t needed for work or scene safety

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