The employees of Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department District 2 marked the second anniversary of a fallen colleague’s death Monday by inspecting their equipment for potential problems and assessing individual readiness.
The men and women of the eight-county region served by District 2, headquartered on U.S. Highway 65 just south of Pine Bluff, took part in the second annual Safety Stand Down Day in honor of Anderson Williams, who died in a work-related accident June 2, 2011, on U.S. Highway 79 in Watson Chapel.
Williams, of McGehee, was working on an AHTD road resurfacing project when he was killed.
“It was two years ago that we were conducting a milling operation in Watson Chapel on Highway 79,” District 2 Engineer David Henning said Monday. “That was the first time in my career that I had had a co-worker lost in a manner such as that. As the first anniversary of his death neared last year I decided that we needed to do something to remember him and to bring safety to the forefront of our people’s minds.”
Henning said that he wanted to combine a tribute to Williams with a call to arms in the name of safety.
“We are in a very dangerous profession,” Henning said. “I wanted to take the opportunity to have a good re-emphasis on safety. Our operators needed to do equipment checks as part of the stand-down. Too often they are in a rush to get to a job site and don’t write down any deficiencies they find until later. We had them talk about heat-related illness and the warning signs to watch out for. In our shops we had them hold a safety meeting to emphasize the use of jack stands when lifting a vehicle and the use of lockouts with hydraulic equipment to prevent injury.”
Henning said that crews gave all their equipment a thorough inspection including all lights, backup alarms, seat belts and safety devices on vehicles.
“Distracted driving is much more prevalent now than in the past thanks to cell phones and texting,” Henning said. “I was at one of our job sites in Pine Bluff last year and I couldn’t believe how many motorists that passed us were either on the phone or texting. We had an accident on the Martha Mitchell Expressway last year where a chip truck plowed into the back of one of our moving lane closure trucks with the large flashing arrows on the back. The driver has still not been able to come back to work. The truck he was in is a complete wreck.”
Henning said that despite all of the department’s best efforts there is no way to guarantee safety on the job.
“We are just trying to make sure that all of our employees take the time to slow down and make safety a priority as opposed to it being something on the side or an afterthought,” Henning said.
Henning said the idea for a safety stand-down came from an earlier time in his life.
“I was a military brat,” Henning said. “My dad was in the Air Force for 20 years and stand-downs were a part of military life. Sometimes aircraft would be grounded for safety inspections and that process gave me the idea to transfer the concept to the AHTD.”