At its 24th Annual Workers Memorial at the State Capitol on May 1, Caltrans honored 183 employees who have lost their lives on the job. The solemn event comes about one year after two Caltrans employees were killed by a rockslide while working to protect the traveling public.
Shawn Baker, 50, of Weed, and Joseph “Robert” Jones, 40, of Montague, died in April 2013 while working on a rock scaling operation to stabilize a hillside on State Route 96, west of Yreka. Their deaths ended a two-year stretch without a highway maintenance worker fatality. Another Caltrans highway maintenance worker, Dean Patton, 51, of Grass Valley, was also be honored. He was riding a motorcycle on his way to attend the 2013 Workers Memorial when he was hit and killed by a motorist.
“The Highway Workers Memorial is a somber reminder that highway workers put their lives in danger everyday just by going to work,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “We are constantly working to protect highway workers and contractors in work zones, but one thing we cannot directly control is driver behavior. Drivers need to slow down, watch out for highway workers, and safely move over a lane when passing work crews.”
Highway construction is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. More than 1,000 Caltrans vehicles are hit on the highways each year. Motorists are at high risk too, with drivers and passengers accounting for 85 to 90 percent of the people who are killed in highway work zones. Most of these fatal crashes are rear-end collisions, with speeding, and aggressive and distracted driving being the most common factors.
“I ask all Californians to spend a moment to contemplate the inherent danger of working all day, every day, within mere feet of quickly-moving vehicles on our state highways. The work is delicate, difficult and dangerous,” said California State Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly. “The work demands respect, and drivers can best pay that respect by slowing down in the ‘cone zone,’ paying attention and avoiding distractions while driving – no texting or talking on your phone. It’s a simple ask given the enormous risk to the men and women serving all of us.”
Drivers can dramatically improve safety in work zones by slowing down and reducing distractions like texting and talking on the phone in highway work zones, and complying with the Move Over law, which requires motorists to move over if it is safe to do so, or slow down, when approaching vehicles displaying flashing amber warning lights.
Caltrans has partnered with the California Transportation Foundation to develop two funds to benefit the families of Caltrans workers killed on the job. The Workers Assistance and Memorial Fund helps with the initial needs a surviving family faces, and the children of fallen workers may now apply for a Caltrans Fallen Workers Memorial Scholarship. Donations may be made to the California Transportation Foundation, 581 La Sierra Drive, Sacramento, CA 95864. Please designate which fund should receive the donation.