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Construction zones need safer drivers, better barriers, workers say

Drivers and contractors could both be doing more to make construction zones less dangerous for workers on the road, according to the president of the Ottawa & District Labour Council.

William Milton of Northbrook, Ont., killed when he and co-worker were struck by SUV on Highway 17 Monday

Two construction workers were hit and one of them was killed when an SUV veered across the median and struck them in a construction zone on Highway 17 on Monday. (Submitted by Gonen Snir)

Drivers and contractors could both be doing more to make construction zones less dangerous for workers on the road, according to the president of the Ottawa & District Labour Council.

On Monday William Milton, 42, of Northbrook, Ont., was killed when he and a co-worker were struck by an SUV travelling west on Highway 17.

Sean McKenny, president of the Ottawa & District Labour Council, says the death of the worker on Highway 17 is sad and frustrating. "It shouldn't have happened." (CBC)
The two workers were on the shoulder of a construction zone where a reduced speed limit is posted.

Both the OPP and the Ministry of Labour are investigating.

The incident happened very near a five-vehicle crash last June on the highway in an area of the road that was also a construction zone. Five people were hurt, including three seriously, and one had to be airlifted to hospital.

Better barriers often needed, says labour head

Ottawa & District Labour Council president Sean McKenny said he doesn't have the details of what happened or why in the most recent incident, but that any time there are workers on the road, they needed to be protected.

Drivers face stiffer fines and contractors have clear guidelines they need to follow, he said, and for workers to be safe, both have to follow the rules in place.

If it is just a pylon [on the road] they are going to knock the pylon over and they are still going to end up hitting the worker.- Sean McKenny, Ottawa & District Labour Council president

"It's not just one or the other," McKenny said.

He'd like to see concrete barriers put in place when crews are spending more time at job sites.

"If it is just a pylon they are going to knock the pylon over and they are still going to end up hitting the worker," he said.

Hydro Ottawa worker Norman Leroux, who has 25 years of experience working in manholes, often right in the middle of busy streets and sidewalks, said it can be scary how oblivious drivers are.

"It's very worrisome when people don't try to slow down, they go more than the speed limit ... especially roads 80 and over they will go 100 kilometres per hour and we are right on the edge of these road areas," said Leroux.

8 deaths in construction zones last year

Across Ontario there were 1,694 collisions in construction zones in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

Hydro Ottawa worker Norman Leroux says drivers are often oblivious to the dangers of speeding when workers are present. (CBC)
Of those, seven collisions led to the deaths of eight people, and another 341 collisions involved injuries, according to the Ministry of Transportation. The ministry data doesn't specify whether the injuries or fatalities were drivers or pedestrians.

Ottawa police Const. Chuck Benoit said with the spring and summer construction season coming, construction zones are going to become more the norm for drivers, and that they need to more alert.

"Our biggest worry is people getting hurt," he said.