Road maintenance worker killed by wheel that seperated from truck

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A 23-year-old public employee was killed after being struck by a wheel and tire assembly that separated from the axle of a flatbed truck being pulled by a tractor-trailer truck. The victim and a co-worker were using string trimmers to trim the grass underneath an overpass on a southbound highway. They were positioned approximately 6 feet from the roadway at the time of the incident. A tractor-trailer truck was travelling southbound in the far right lane when two tandem wheels separated from the rear axle of the trailer. One of the wheels struck the victim in the head, propelling him approximately 30 feet from the point of impact. The co-worker, who did not have a clear view of the incident, saw the wheel rolling along the highway and radioed the victim. Receiving no response, he went to check on him and discovered the victim lying on the ground. The co-worker called 911. Emergency medical services arrived within minutes and declared the victim dead at the scene.

To prevent future occurrences:

  • Employers of roadway work crews should assign a spotter to observe oncoming traffic, and workers should be trained to face oncoming traffic whenever possible. A spotter assigned to observe oncoming traffic will be able to alert road crews of impending hazards, including items that fall or dislodge from passing vehicles. 
  • A safety and health plan based on job hazard analysis should be developed by the employer and followed for each highway work zone where employees are assigned tasks. Employers – with the participation of employees – should conduct a job hazard analysis of all work areas and job tasks. This should begin by reviewing the work activities for which the employee is responsible as well as the equipment required.
  • State highway authorities should consider reducing speed limits in maintenance work zones on high-traffic highways. In situations such as this, speed zone reduction may have been warranted, as a lower speed might have prevented the tire from separating from the axle or might have reduced the momentum with which the tire travelled.

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