At its 26th Annual Workers Memorial on May 4 at the State Capitol, Caltrans honored 184 employees who have lost their lives on the job since 1921. This solemn event honors the legacies of those who gave their lives to build, maintain and keep California’s transportation system safe, and unfortunately adds yet another Caltrans employee to those killed while on the job.
After two years without a Caltrans fatality, Oscar Vargas, 54, of Chula Vista, died from injuries received after losing control of his work truck while leaving a nighttime project along Interstate 8 in Imperial County on July 14, 2015. Vargas was a Structures Construction Transportation Civil Engineer and 29-year Caltrans veteran.
“Every day, thousands of highway workers put their lives in danger just by going to work and serving the public. This year’s memorial is dedicated to Oscar Vargas and all our fallen colleagues. It serves as a somber reminder of those risks and dangers,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “Let’s use this memorial as an opportunity to remind ourselves and each other that it is our responsibility to help keep our highway workers safe by slowing down, paying attention and moving over when amber lights are flashing.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, highway construction and maintenance work is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. In 2014, 63 men and women died in California work zones. This includes both workers and motorists, with drivers and passengers accounting for 85 to 90 percent of the people who are killed in highway work zones. These numbers don’t include the close calls highway workers experience every day.
“Work zones can change from minute to minute. The presence of construction equipment, changing traffic patterns and reduced speeds create an environment where being alert can be the difference between life and death for workers and motorists,” added Dougherty. “Californians can help keep our highways safe by slowing down in the ‘work zone’ and complying with the Move Over law.”
Drivers can dramatically improve safety in work zones by slowing down and reducing distractions like texting and talking on the phone, 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 Fallen Workers Assistance and Memorial Fund helps with the initial needs a surviving family faces, and the children of fallen workers may apply for a Caltrans Fallen Workers Memorial Scholarship. For more information or to make donations, visit www.transportationfoundation.org.