The Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Warning Beacons for
Front Line Service Worker Safety

NIOSH Grant: 1R01OH010165-01A1

PROJECT SUMMARY This research study is a collaboration between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Pennsylvania State University aimed at systematically improving the visual information from warning beacons used by front line service workers (FLSWs), who make up 13% of the U.S. workforce but are involved in 36% of workplace fatalities, with vehicle incidents the most common cause of fatalities, according to the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA). This is inherently understood by the example of "Move Over" legislation now being enacted in 49 of 50 states in the U.S., several of which include maintenance and utility vehicles in addition to police and emergency vehicles. However, the high proportion of crashes involving FLSWs suggests that drivers do not have the visual information required to make the best driving maneuvers needed to comply with "Move Over" laws. To address crashes involving FLSWs, several integrated, multidisciplinary studies are being conducted that will lead to performance specifications for new-generation warning beacons using the latest sensor and light source technologies. The visibility of warning beacons is characterized in these studies through psychophysical measures including response times, closure detection performance, correct identification of location, and self-reports of visibility and glare. Both scale model laboratory experiments and full-scale closed-track studies are utilized. Optical simulation studies ensure that the psychophysical findings from the laboratory and closed-track experiments are implemented practically using available lighting, control and sensor technologies.

The studies address the following specific aims:
Aim 1: The studies will identify the luminous intensity distributions of warning beacons needed to provide visible signals without creating glare under different ambient conditions to support the safety of FLSWs. Aim 2: The studies will identify the temporal and chromatic requirements of warning beacons to convey information about the relative speed and orientation of vehicles around which FLSWs are located. Aim 3: The studies will establish whether synchronizing the frequency and phase of multiple warning beacons would help drivers more quickly and accurately make appropriate decisions to reduce risk exposure of FLSWs. Aim 4: The studies will confirm the findings from Aims 1 through 3 in closed-track field studies.

RPI and PSU have successfully collaborated previously, and have an established track record of working together. It is anticipated that the results of the proposed collaborative research activities under this R01 application will lead to innovative and practical performance characteristics of warning beacons that will provide drivers with the visual information needed to quickly and confidently perform necessary driving maneuvers for improved worker safety, thus addressing an important research need identified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in its National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA). (Complete project information may be found here.)

Under the grant to Professor Mark S. Rea (PI), Director of the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), a half-day workshop was held at the Larson Transportation Institute (LTI) at Pennsylvania State University (PSU) on April 6, 2016 to share research results with stakeholders and conduct a demonstration of a prototype intelligent warning beacon system developed by the LRC. Click for Symposium Summary.

The following presentations were delivered at the symposium at Penn State University, April 6, 2016.

Authors/Presenters Title Affiliation PDF
Sammarco, JJ Safety of Workers – A NIOSH Perspective NIOSH
Skinner, NP
Bullough, JD
Rea, MS
Warning Beacon Intensity, Visibility, Glare and Closure Detection LRC
Bullough, JD
Rea, MS
Optical Design Characteristics of Warning Beacons and Visibility in Fog LRC
Garvey, PM
de la Riva, M
Pietrucha, MT
The Impact of Highway Safety Flares on Driver Behavior LTI
Rea, MS
Bullough, JD
Impacts of Warning Light Intensity and Flash Patterns on Driver Response LRC
Garvey, PM
Pietrucha, MT
Himes, S
Alternative Color Channelizing Devices in Work Zones LTI

Funding for this conference was made possible (in part) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The views expressed in written conference materials or publications and by speakers and moderators do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Additional publications related to the NIOSH grant:

  • Rea MS, Bullough JD. Toward performance specifications for flashing warning beacons. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Phychology and Behaviour - Journal Paper (2016)
  • Rea MS, Bullough JD, Radetsky LC, Skinner NP, Bierman A. Toward the development of standards for yellow flashing lights used in work zones. Lighting Research & Technology - Journal Paper (2016)
  • Bullough JD and Rea MS. Impacts of Fog Characteristics, Forward Illumination, and Warning Beacon Intensity Distribution on Roadway Hazard Visibility. The Scientific World Journal - Journal Paper (2016)