At its 22nd annual Workers Memorial on Wednesday, May 9 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, Caltrans honored its 178 employees who have lost their lives on the job, including three San Diego-area workers who were killed in separate incidents last year.
The three Caltrans employees were killed within a 48-day period in 2011. On May 4, Stephen Palmer Sr. was struck by a trolley in National City near San Diego. On June 7, Jaime Obeso was hit by an errant vehicle while working on Interstate 8 in Imperial County. Richard Gonzalez, a Caltrans maintenance worker, died June 20 after being struck by a vehicle while he was working on a litter crew along State Route 15 in San Diego.
The tragedies sparked a statewide campaign beginning in July 2011 to raise public awareness of the “Move Over” law, which was amended in 2009 to add Caltrans vehicles displaying flashing amber warning lights to the list of vehicles for which motorists must move over if safe to do so, or slow down.
Public awareness is a key factor in keeping roadways safe for workers. The workers memorial is a reminder that safety is a year-round priority, and that Californians can help keep our highways safe by slowing down in work zones and complying with the Move Over law.
Highway construction and maintenance work is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. However, California has made significant strides in highway work zone safety since 1999 when Caltrans launched its Slow for the Cone Zone safety campaign. The most recent fatality data shows that since the inception of Slow for the Cone Zone, California’s highway work zone fatality rate declined 63 percent compared to a drop of just 34 percent nationally.
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 will help with the initial needs a surviving family faces, and the children of fallen workers may now apply for a Caltrans Fallen Workers Memorial Scholarship.
Malcolm Dougherty serves as the Acting Caltrans Director. For more information, visit www.transportationfoundation.org.