National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW): The Formidable Construction Barrel

Over the years, construction barrels – officially known as “drums” in the United States – have become well-established mainstays of many road construction areas. The distinguishing features of construction barrels include their alternating white and orange reflective bands. These barrels are typically used to help make drivers aware that they are approaching a work zone and also to safely redirect traffic through those construction areas.

The advantages of construction barrels in or near work zones are highlighted in Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The section of MUTCD addressing temporary traffic control includes the following statement:  “Drums [barrels] are highly visible, have good target value, give the appearance of being formidable obstacles and, therefore, command the respect of road users.”

A major milestone for this larger-than-average traffic control device took place during the early 1990s, when plastic barrels were introduced in ever-increasing numbers to replace 55-gallon (208.2-liter) metal drums in road construction areas. Those heavy and bulky metal drums were difficult to transport and install. They also posed potentially significant hazards whenever motor vehicles rammed up against them. The plastic versions have proven to be considerably more lightweight and easier to set up, and they are also deemed to be an equally sturdy but safer alternative for drivers and workers alike.

The innovative individual credited with developing and helping to popularize the type of plastic construction barrel widely used today is Dick Dorbin. His version of that barrel, which he began to work on during the 1980s, was formally unveiled by the Cleveland-based Plastic Safety Systems, Inc., in 1992.

(The above photo features a few of those barrels near a work zone on Maryland Route 47 in Baltimore.)

For more information on construction barrels (drums), please check out Ask Us: The origin and evolution of traffic barrels | Local News |

The section of MUTCD discussing those barrels and other temporary traffic control devices is available at

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