From repairing roads and bridges to upgrading underground utilities and integrating renewable energy sources, improving our nation’s critical infrastructure is key to keeping communities moving. As an industry-leading, Safety-Driven®, short-term traffic control company, Flagger Force is honored to work alongside our utility partner contractors, telecommunication providers, and thousands of construction crews to aid in these crucial efforts. While our team members guide motorists safely through a work zone, we are helping our clients address poor road conditions, inspect aging bridges, maintain power, and secure water and gas lines to ensure communities have the essential resources they rely on daily.

Infrastructure maintenance and improvements are vital, as are the safety of the individuals working on or near the roadway each day to support these efforts. At Flagger Force, we are committed to continuously improving workplace safety, educating drivers on their role in protecting roadway workers, and advocating for laws and policy updates to create meaningful change across the entire transportation construction industry. We recently had the opportunity to connect with Brad Sant and Lauren Schapker from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). This organization represents all public and private sector components of the United States transportation industry. It responsibly advocates for infrastructure investment and policy that meets the nation’s need for the safe and efficient movement of people and goods.

Brad Sant, JD, CSP, ASP, is the senior vice president of safety and education for ARTBA. He oversees safety training and education programs, the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, and various federal safety contracts. Lauren Schapker is the vice president of legislative affairs. She is one of ARTBA’s primary advocates on Capitol Hill and works with legislators and their staff to advance transportation construction industry priorities.

Read what Brad and Lauren shared during our recent conversation to learn how ARTBA is spearheading government affairs efforts focused on investments in transportation infrastructure, their efforts to change the definition of vulnerable road users to include roadway workers, and more.   

What are your daily roles and responsibilities within the association?

Lauren: I am the vice president of legislative affairs, so my daily responsibilities revolve around building champions for an increase in investments in transportation infrastructure on Capitol Hill. This includes sharing the latest data on projects underway with congressional offices, engaging in congressional hearings, testifying at hearings, and getting essential questions asked. On the flip side of my job, I do a lot of policy work. At ARTBA, we have a highway, environmental, and transit policy, to name a few. These documents are our foundations used to craft policy changes on Capitol Hill. With the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in place, I have been involved with getting members of Congress, state departments of transportation, and the media out on project sites to see how the investments are making a difference across communities.

Brad: I am the senior vice president of safety and education and have been with ARTBA for almost 26 years. At ARTBA, there are three legs to our safety stool, and those are the areas I focus on. The first leg supports regulations and policies, so I work closely with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure sound safety policies are in place. The second leg is specific to safety training, largely supported by federal grants and contracts. This includes worker safety and education to ensure all employees go home safely each day. The third leg is the Traffic Safety Industry Division. This division includes companies that have anything to do with roadway safety, roadway infrastructure, and producing products that impact roadway improvements and/or traffic.

What makes ARTBA unique?

Brad: Founded in 1902, ARTBA is one of the oldest trade associations in the country. The association was founded by bicyclists who were interested in improving roadways for bikes. Today, ARTBA is not like many of the associations that operate in this space. We have eight distinct divisions that cover different sectors, so we are truly a federation that crosses the entire industry. Our divisions include:

  • Contractors—It includes everything from large, international construction companies to small driveway-paving contractors. Approximately 50 to 60 percent of our members are contractors.
  • Planning and Design—Engineering firms and the individuals who plan and design projects, such as roadways, bridges, ports, and airports, are included in this division.
  • Public and Private Partnerships—One of our most unique divisions at ARTBA because it includes members from other divisions, like Planning and Design. It also includes financial institutions, attorneys, and concessionaires who are raising private money to build roadways.
  • Traffic Safety Industry—This division includes companies that provide traffic control services as well as companies that produce safety hardware, paint, traffic control devices, and other products that are needed for the roadway.
  • Equipment Manufacturers—Composed of companies who make equipment and heavy machinery, like Caterpillar and John Deere. The support we offer members within this division is in partnership with the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.
  • Research and Education—This division includes university transportation centers and folks engaged in nitty-gritty research related to transportation and infrastructure.
  • Transportation Officials—This division comprises state departments of transportation, federal officials, and county engineers across all levels of government.
  • Materials and Services—The Materials and Services Division includes quarries, asphalt producers, and cement producers, as well as insurance, software providers, and legal services.

Lauren: To Brad’s point, ARTBA’s unique structure really lends us to effective advocacy on Capitol Hill because while each division basically has its own trade association, we are the only one in Washington D.C. that is bringing the holistic viewpoint of a policy on behalf of the entire industry up to lawmakers. So, when lawmakers hear from us, they hear from the entire industry, not just one small piece of it. Our advocacy is focused on the federal level, so we rely on ARTBA’s chapters in 34 states across the country to monitor what is happening at the state level.


What programs or services does ARTBA offer to help members thrive in the industry?

Lauren: Many trade associations invest in research, marketing, and professional development. At ARTBA, our economic data services and advocacy efforts set us apart. Everyone lives and breathes anecdotes, especially on Capitol Hill. Legislators may hear that a contractor is not getting work, or they cannot find employees. We can use our economics team to track down contracts, produce micro and national data, and present industry performance to support or disprove buzz. In addition to providing a national picture, our economics team can track down data at the state level and by congressional districts. When our members come to Washington, D.C., to advocate, we can provide them with a one-pager outlining the number of projects in a specific member of Congress’ district and all the discretionary grants they have won. That has proven to be incredibly valuable and distinguishes ARTBA.

We also track construction costs over time, as supply chain issues and inflation have been real concerns. Keeping an eye on contract awards year over year and other trends is important to evaluating industry growth. Having a strong economics team to bolster our advocacy efforts is also important.

Brad: As a non-partisan association, we have credibility no matter which administration is in power. We advocate for worker safety and workers’ rights at both the congressional level and the regulatory level and are engaged with various agencies in the industry, such as OSHA and FHWA. The other piece is our safety services. While we have a strong regulatory aspect, we also provide training in the industry. ARTBA trains thousands of individuals annually, mostly at no charge. Our goal is to work with members to improve worker safety. For example, training courses include fall hazards, struck-by hazards, and trenching safety, to name a few.

In partnership with FHWA, we operate the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, the largest online repository of work zone safety information. This resource is free to our members and the public.

Could you talk more about ARTBA’s safety training programs?

Brad: We have many programs, but the ones free to the industry are the most popular. We work closely with OSHA to identify training topics. This year, we have a four-hour training program focused on overexertion sprains and strains, working in hot environments, and preventing struck-by incidents and runovers. Those are important topics for our industry. FHWA funds our other training, including everything from fall prevention to trench safety. We also offer roadway safety training tailored to the traffic control industry. In partnership with FHWA, we have developed about 30 online training courses. Again, most of them are free, and individuals can take the courses to enhance their knowledge or earn professional development hours. In addition to online training, we offer live, hands-on training.

We also produce webinars and podcasts on industry-specific topics. For example, we have developed episodes on suicide prevention and hard hats versus helmets. We also have guests come in to speak on a variety of topics and share their experiences and insights with others in the industry.

Could you discuss emerging safety trends or issues in the transportation construction industry?

Brad: In some ways, it has never been a better environment than it is now to advocate for worker safety in the roadway construction industry, but that cuts both ways. There has been a lot more attention around work zone safety simply because there have been several high-profile incidents, which is the negative side. For example, there was the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, and then a year before that, the tragic accident on I-695 that killed six roadway workers in Baltimore, Maryland. Recently, in central Pennsylvania, a box truck entered an active work zone, killing three workers.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) created many positive opportunities for our country and beneficial initiatives are happening because of ARTBA’s efforts in getting that bill through. First, the IIJA allows states to use some of their funds to establish automated speed enforcement programs. This is a huge victory because before the passage of IIJA very few states had this type of program. Since the passage of IIJA, about 25 states have either enacted automated speed enforcement programs or are working with legislation in their state to enable automated speed enforcement, so this is an emerging trend that will incentivize motorists to obey speed limits and improve work zone safety.

Additionally, ARTBA has been advocating at both the state and federal levels for the definition of vulnerable road users to include individuals who work on or near the roadway, such as traffic control professionals. Roadway workers are out there 8 to 10 hours a day and are exposed to traffic hazards, but nobody thinks about that. Many of the programs created to protect vulnerable road users focus on pedestrians, bicyclists, people who live in disadvantaged communities with poor sidewalks and crosswalks, and individuals with disabilities. As states develop their strategic highway safety plans and other required documentation, ARTBA has been advocating and reminding leaders that roadway workers are vulnerable road users and must be included in their safety plans. During National Work Zone Awareness Week, FHWA released a press release about highway workers as vulnerable road users, showing we are progressing on this issue.

Other provisions in the IIJA are not being utilized yet but are hopeful. The one I want to mention is the Safety Contingency Fund. This allows states to save money for projects and resources that enhance safety. For example, a utility company is completing underground gas line repairs. They originally planned to use drums and cones to direct traffic. However, they realized having traffic control professionals on site would be better and safer. If the state and the contractor agree that there is a better way to complete the project and acknowledge they did not anticipate the challenge, they can draw money from the Safety Contingency Fund. No change order or complicated process is required; they can access the funds instantly. It is a great provision, but we must increase awareness of the resource and advocate for states to use it.   

Tell us about ARTBA’s government affairs team and the work they do.

Lauren: While we focus on legislative work, such as going to Capitol Hill to get bills like the IIJA done, we are also committed to the regulatory space, including the efforts that Brad previously mentioned. While infrastructure laws are a boulder to roll up the hill, getting down the hill requires much effort. Our government affairs team must work to educate federal agencies on what the new policies mean, how they should be enforcing them, and ensuring safety-related policy provisions are being implemented correctly among agencies.

Our team also evaluates reauthorization bills to identify and advance safety priorities. For example, we look at what we liked from the last law in the safety space, identify what was not included but should have been, and share recommendations for how the legislation can be tweaked to improve things. We work across ARTBA’s eight divisions to gather insights and strengthen legislation impacting the industry.

Additionally, while our internal team does a lot of the advocacy, we ensure that when our members come to Washington, D.C., they have all the materials they need to go to Capitol Hill and discuss relevant issues. The individuals who work on these infrastructure projects and are on job sites daily will always be much more effective advocates. We have a big event coming up, and we will have a few hundred ARTBA members going up to Capitol Hill to talk about issues facing the transportation construction industry.

Brad: One of the things that makes ARTBA very effective both on Capitol Hill and in the regulatory arena is that we get all our different divisions together to create a safety policy. The policy includes insights from various sectors, so it is all-encompassing. Once the policy is developed, we can move forward. When we get to Capitol Hill, or an opportunity arises to advocate, we do not have to reconsider whether we support the efforts. We can say it is in our policy. ARTBA has already started to plan for the next round of reauthorization bills. We leverage our members to create teams that help update our policies and identify what needs to be included and what needs to change so we can effectively advocate for those things.

What are the biggest obstacles ARTBA faces when advocating for transportation and safety improvements?

Lauren: Money is the biggest obstacle. A lot of the policy priorities we have cost money to implement, and states will have to change the way they have always done things. The inertia to get people to change and to be willing to commit the money to solve some of these problems is always going to be our biggest challenge. Another challenge is the time it takes to move legislation forward. The fact that we were able to get the IIJA done and in place for five years was a tremendous accomplishment, but I do think we will face challenges in two years when we need a lot more money to keep it going.

The other piece is that everybody on Capitol Hill is pro-safety, but figuring out what that means to the 535 members is extremely difficult. Often, their focus is on bikes and pedestrians. So, getting up there and beating the drum repeatedly that roadway workers are vulnerable road users and ensuring that ARTBA’s view of safety is known by those 535 members who might be thinking of safety differently is vital.

Brad: Another obstacle is changing the culture of safety. For example, when we advocate for enhanced protection between roadway workers and moving vehicles, such as movable barriers, we often face cost-benefit analysis problems. Agencies may say the cost of putting in barriers is not worth the benefit they derive, so many people have just accepted that. To change the culture of safety, we must ask questions like “What value are you using to say the cost is greater than the benefit?” and “What value are you placing on a life as opposed to implementing safety equipment?”. It is critical we change the culture of safety and place greater value on human life, health, and safety. But doing that is the hardest part of the job no matter where we work, whether on Capitol Hill, at the federal agency level, or with motorists.

What are some things ARTBA recommends to their members who are building a safety culture based on what is happening in the industry?

Brad: Building a safety culture requires a true and authentic effort. It must start in the C-suite with CEOs and company leaders who truly believe in safety and want to do better. In the construction industry, there is a high percentage of suicides and opioid abuse. The suicides are greater than the occupational death rate. It is a huge problem. One trend we have seen in the industry is an initiative called Total Worker Health. Companies are starting to build a safety culture that is open to talking about and providing resources for individuals who may be struggling. Sending the message that each employee’s mental health and well-being is as important as their safety is critical.

ARTBA recently began a partnership with an organization to support total worker health. A strong safety culture is not just about staying alive. It is about truly supporting every aspect of every employee’s well-being. The culture typically in the construction industry is that employees must suck up their problems and get the job done. Our goal is to change that. For example, if an employee has argued with their spouse and comes to work upset, it should be okay for them to say, “Give me a few minutes, boss. I’ve got to get my head in the game because I am not safe out there.” Business leaders need to remember their employees are human and may be dealing with challenges outside of the workplace. We must work to build a culture that supports employees and their struggles instead of pretending they do not exist. Companies must change their internal culture first. Then, it will become how everyone operates, including employees’ children, spouses, and the rest of the world.

What are your members or other industry organizations doing from a grassroots standpoint to enhance the safety of their employees?

Brad: It is truly amazing what our members are doing! One of our larger members out West told me their company is working very closely with a university to do research on how to more effectively and safely put down and pick up temporary traffic control devices, which is a very hazardous job. The company is funding the research to gain an in-depth analysis from an academic point of view. Another one of our members funded a sophisticated study where they placed sensors on the roadway to see if vehicles were responding to work zones, merging at the proper times, and slowing down. If a motorist was not responding, it sent alarms upstream to the roadway workers to alert them that there may be an intrusion. We are seeing a lot of members funding their own research studies and many are becoming more effective at developing software to prevent work zone intrusions.

The other piece I see is that many organizations invest in human resource (HR) initiatives focused on total worker health. It is not just about keeping them safe on the job site but being more concerned about their overall well-being. For example, childcare is a huge stressor for many employees, so finding ways to help ensure their children are well taken care of while they are at work is important. All that to say, companies are starting to take ownership of the safety and well-being of their employees and not just doing what they feel obligated to do. They are being creative and thinking outside of traditional ways to ensure their employees are doing well.

Lauren: Hearing these stories from our members is great fodder for us to take to Capitol Hill and say, “This is a really awesome success story out of your state. Let’s find a way to make this more usable nationwide.” Hearing our members think so creatively, which is not always a strong suit for those of us here in Washington, D.C., is a helpful tool that we are grateful to our members for.

Based on ARTBA’s engagement with federal lawmakers and congressional committees, are there any key takeaways or interesting insights about safety in the transportation construction market that you could share?

Lauren: I will go back to something I said earlier about it being very important that roadway workers are considered vulnerable road users. About 75 percent of the safety-related initiatives happening right now, either in the regulatory space or legislatively, are about bike safety and pedestrian safety, which are important and noble causes, and those offer opportunities for us to talk about all vulnerable road users. That is an emerging trend that we get approached about. We get asked, “Can ARTBA support this legislation?” We say, “Well, maybe this is an opportunity to include this or that in the worker safety space.” Additionally, once Congress decides how they want to proceed and rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, there may be some opportunities in that legislation to once again advance policies about worker safety and protocols around disasters.

Is there anything else that is important for the public to know about ARTBA’s advocacy efforts and/or employee safety?

Lauren: Now is the time to start getting your ducks in a row for the next infrastructure bill. We are really going to start educating Congress on it and advancing policies starting in January of 2025.

Brad: When Congress is thinking about transportation construction, they think of “Disneyland”, an amazing destination. They sometimes forget that getting to Disneyland requires steps in between, like getting on an airplane or driving there. Applying this analogy to the industry, legislators sometimes forget that to get to the idealistic safe transportation system, construction must take place. During that phase many people are exposed to hazards and put in harm’s way. It is not just about having the end product. We must be safe while we are getting to the end product. We want to see an increase in the number of projects that can get done, but we do not want that to correlate with an increase in tragedies.

At Flagger Force, we are pleased to collaborate with other professionals and associations that share our passion for keeping communities moving and our commitment to keeping safety at the forefront. We want to thank the American Road & Transportation Builders Association for all their hard work to advocate for improved infrastructure across our nation and to educate members about the vital role safety plays in the workplace. And we thank Brad Sant and Lauren Schapker for participating in this insightful discussion and sharing all that they are doing to create meaningful change across the industry.