Construction, People, Road, Safety

Making a mark on our roads

Road marking – it’s a critically important part of major roadworks, but it’s sometimes lost amid the breathless excitement that often accompanies the physical construction of new roads. Dean Crutchfield is the former Chief Executive Officer of the Roadmarking Industry Association of Australia, and he’s currently leading the charge to make the road marking industry more harmonised, more professional and more innovative across the country.

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Road marking has been an important element within the road construction supply chain for many decades now, but it’s only been in recent years that the industry has really come into its own.

According to Dean Crutchfield, there’s now several major factors enhancing the professionalism of the industry. These include the harmonisation of standards across the country, efforts towards balancing tender specifications with the need to promote innovation, and enhanced safety for road marking professionals.

Bringing standards together

On the standards front, at the present time, there are several different specifications around the country that make it difficult to achieve a consistent approach to line marking from state to state.

“Up until recently there were up to eight different standards across the country,” said Mr Crutchfield. “But now, with the support from each of the state road authorities in the move towards harmonisation, we will see one minimum standard around the country.

“The intention is that by the end of 2017, all markings, lines, sizes, and minimum retroreflectivity on all roads will be the same across the country. The widths of the lines, the shapes of the markings – as in arrows, stop bars and the like – will all be consistent across the country, which has been a massive effort.

“The national harmonisation will also meet the international minimum for retroreflectivity, which is the measurement of the brightness of the line. This is measured typically by a hand held machine, although there are some mobile units available. The minimum measurement for road marking brightness is 150 millicandela lux per square meter (mcd/m2).”

According to Mr Crutchfield, the road authorities and industry have been working together towards harmonisation on these various standards, with the efforts receiving particular support from employees at Main Roads Western Australia.

“Most of the road authorities around Australia are on-board with the harmonisation process, and after some more minor changes, it’s now almost at the stage of signing off on the process.”

The importance of innovation

The other issue the road marking industry is presently grappling with is tender specification, and more specifically, balancing meeting the requirements stipulated in tenders with introducing innovative new products and services into the industry. According to Mr Crutchfield, tender documents will often specify a method in how to perform the work, without giving any leeway to new processes or materials.

“Tenders often ask the tenderer to apply a particular amount of product and glass beads, in order to achieve a given result (retroreflectivity) over a set time period,” said Mr Crutchfield.

“Unfortunately, with the road surfaces that we’ve got, especially in rural areas, that are predominantly chip seals, it’s sometimes difficult to achieve those results consistently with the given methods.

“Tender documents might also specify materials that are not always the best value for money. While it seems like a really good idea to have long-life material, in reality this may not be the best value for that particular road or surface.”

He went on to say, “There is a strong push now for performance based contracts, where the focus is on the end result, rather than the method of application or material used.”

This leads into a major challenge for the industry – creating more room for innovation and providing the asset owner with better value for money spent.

Road authorities and asset owners need to ensure that their contractors and materials are pre- qualified at some level. Currently New South Wales, the ACT, the Northern Territory and South Australia use the Painting Contractor Certification Program (PCCP), while Victoria and Tasmania  use the VicRoads Prequalification Scheme. Queensland and Western Australia are looking to implement the PCCP scheme shortly for works on all state-owned roads. Materials should be approved according to the minimum standards set by the Australian Paint Approval Scheme (APAS) guidelines. APAS tests and certifies paints and coatings to ensure they meet stringent performance specifications. Both APAS and PCCP are run and owned by the CSIRO.

“While it’s important to have approved products in use in the industry, it does stifle innovation somewhat, because it creates a barrier to releasing new products onto the market,” said Mr Crutchfield.

“My personal belief is that if you’ve got a product that’s coming in from an overseas market that’s tried, tested and approved, interim approval shouldn’t be an issue. A road is a road, it doesn’t matter where in the world it is, and the products used to apply road markings successfully internationally should be able to be used here in Australia.

“Innovation is a good thing, it should be promoted, and we should be giving our contractors and suppliers the space to be able to provide us with innovative products and practices.”

According to Mr Crutchfield, the Department of Roads and Maritime Services in New South Wales is taking proactive steps in the right direction to balancing between meeting guidelines with creating room for innovation.

“In New South Wales, they have a specification (R145) which basically requires a minimum result of quality over a set period of time. The emphasis isn’t necessarily on the products used to meet this requirement, as long as the minimum standard of quality is achieved at the end of the required period. The key to the success of this though is monitoring and compliance.”

This is allowing new marking products, such as cold applied plastic technology, to gain traction here in Australia. According to Mr Crutchfield, it’s a technology that has been around for quite a while in Europe and the US, but has just started to gain momentum in Australia in the past 12 months.

“Funnily enough, it’s the Northern Territory and Western Australian governments, probably two of the most remote road authorities in the country, that have taken this new product and new technology on board and are running serious trials and projects with it,” noted Mr Crutchfield.

“The Northern Territory is just about to commence its second large-scale job with cold applied plastic, and Western Australia’s just about to start their first.”

Part of the reason these two states are trialling this new product is that they both face challenges with traditional thermoplastic materials used for road marking. Thermoplastic needs to be applied to roads at approximately 2000°C. However, with cold applied plastic, the material is applied, as the name suggests, cold. It is a totally different method of installation and should give the road authorities a functional line for many years.

“They’re trying something different, and I think this kind of innovation should be applauded and encouraged.”

Worker safety

One of the biggest challenges for everyone working in the road marking industry across the country is worker safety. The crews who are out in the field, applying the paints to mark roads, are often working at night to minimise traffic disruption, and they’re often working in remote locations.

When you add the fact that drivers are increasingly affected by alcohol, drugs, fatigue and impatience to this mix, we’re left with a dangerous cocktail.

“Part of the problem we face is that road works are often poorly signed, or left unattended, resulting in drivers speeding through our sites,” said Mr Crutchfield. “That’s a huge issue for us as an industry.”

The introduction of truck mounted attenuators (TMAs) to mobile sites has helped to improve the safety of workers out on the roads, but there’s more to be done. TMAs help to protect crews by absorbing a colliding vehicle’s kinetic energy like a giant cushion. Nonetheless, even in Victoria, where there is at least one TMA on every road marking project site, drivers still run into the back of them as a regular occurrence – and while they can absorb the energy of a colliding vehicle, damage and the potential for serious injury or a fatality, is very real and a high risk facing crews.

As a result, the RIAA is continuing to do research into better ways to help protect its workers out in the field.

“We’ve looked at introducing radio interrupt technology, which sends a broadcast message out over the radio for cars approaching works; and we’ve looked at having different coloured lights around crews, and different lighting effects, where lights flash brighter and faster as cars approach them,” said Mr Crutchfield.

“The problem is, if a driver is asleep, they’re asleep, and none of this works. If they are affected by some sort of stimulant, the risk to our crews dramatically increases. We still have people speeding and ignoring our work sites. It’s a huge issue for us, and the whole road construction industry.”

Industry changes

As the road marking industry in Australia has evolved it has become increasingly professionalised, and for Mr Crutchfield, he’s particularly pleased that with new training and qualifications available to all road markers. Road marking can now be seen as a career, rather than just a job.

The safety of road marking crews is an ongoing challenge for the industry.

The safety of road marking crews is an ongoing challenge
for the industry.

“We’ve made significant improvements from a career path perspective now, there’s a Certificate III in Road Marking that’s now available, and we’re working towards developing a Certificate IV aimed at the management level.

“A recent revamp of the Certificate III course, and refining our course providers to just one RTO, has improved the course and made it more valuable for those undertaking it. Our RTO is able to help employers access funding when available to assist with the cost of the training and encourage more employers to have qualified staff.

With well-trained practitioners at the industry’s disposal, the path to successful projects, according to Mr Crutchfield, lies in asset owners, product suppliers and contractors working collaboratively towards successful outcomes.

“Alliances between asset owners, contractors and suppliers is the key to more successful contracts, and ultimately safer roads,” said Mr Crutchfield. “That’s what we are all here to provide. That’s supported by various state road authorities – for example, in Victoria, Vicroads has established maintenance alliances with various contractors. These alliances work really well because it’s the outcome that is every party’s primary focus.

“Everyone’s got the same outcome in mind and the same focus – everyone is working in the one direction.”

With some of the building blocks in place for successful and sustainable industry growth, Mr Crutchfield’s current focus is on advocating for greater emphasis on innovation, and greater rewards for practitioners that achieve good results.

“The current trend in the industry is to have a performance based contract, but this is just based on meeting a minimum requirement of 150 mcd/m2,” said Mr Crutchfield.

“There’s no incentive at the moment to exceed this minimum requirement – but I do think that if there was that incentive for contractors to provide a better finish at the end of their contract, then that’s what the road authorities would get. And that would be an ideal outcome for everyone.”

Mr Crutchfield is also keen to encourage road marking professionals to take up RIAA membership.

“It’s really important for us as an industry to support our association as well – the more support the association has, the more they can offer the industry in terms of advocacy, networking opportunities and training seminars.”

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