POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – County roads and drainage employees shared a wardrobe choice and a message of safety to remember one of their own and protect all roadside workers Wednesday.
They wore orange for “Go Orange Day” during National Work Zone Awareness Week.
“Put it down. It can wait. A few minutes, it can wait,” said Katia Delgado, asset section manager at Polk County Roads & Drainage, about drivers and their cell phones.
Delgado organized Polk County’s involvement in Wednesday’s “Go Orange Day.”
She estimates 40 percent of the department’s 267 employees are in the field any given day working on the 2,500 miles of roadway in the county.
Distracted driving is a real threat to them.
“It just takes a split second of you taking your eyes off the roadway, especially when there’s a construction zone and you haven’t been through there and the conditions have changed,” said Delgado.
A flagger has not been able to return to work after being injured in a crash on a job in Lakeland 18 months ago, according to county officials.
In 2009, Jimmy Justice, an equipment operator, was killed when a vehicle left the road and hit him.
Work zone fatalities have only increased since then. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports 2019 saw the highest level of work zone fatalities in 15 years.
Eight hundred and forty-two people died in highway work-zone crashes, an 11 percent increase over the year before, according to the U.S. DOT.
Workers are not the only ones at risk.
Four out of five people killed in those crashes were drivers or passengers, according to the federal government.