Drivesmart column: Flag person: a high risk occupation

I measured a construction zone and calculated that it cost drivers a total of 74 seconds

By Tim Schewe

If I were to ask you what a flag person’s job was, what would you reply? Assure orderly movement of traffic through a highway obstruction of some sort? Help everyone involved to be safe as they work on the highway? Why then do some drivers treat flagpersons so badly?

Our provincial government sets the standards for traffic management in highway work sites, including the rules that flagpersons must follow when they are working.

WorkSafeBC mandates that all flagpersons must be trained to those standards before they can be employed. Currently, only training offered by the B.C. Construction Safety Alliance meets acceptable standards and requirements.

The Motor Vehicle Act sets out requirements too. Signs must be set up warning traffic that work is in progress. There must also be signs setting reduced speed limits and if necessary, traffic controls to guide the paths vehicles must travel.

Drivers must obey the directions of a flagger and a traffic control person.

There is also authority in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation giving workers authority to protect themselves by controlling traffic when they are working on a highway.

Even our Slow Down, Move Over laws dictate how drivers are to behave around stopped vehicles displaying flashing lights.

There is an interesting introduction document on WorkSafeBC’s site for potential flagpersons. It’s titled Working in Traffic Control Zones – Be Prepared for High Risk!

In the face of all these rules, regulations and controls, why would the job of flagperson be a high risk occupation? Probably because there are people driving the vehicles that present a threat to them. People do not always behave as they should.

Ask any flagperson about their job and they will roll their eyes and start telling stories about bad and even dangerous drivers in highway work zones. No one wants to wait their turn. No one wants to slow down. Everyone gets upset with them and some have even experienced narrow misses or even been struck by drivers through inattention or even deliberately.

They are not inventing stories. One sunny July afternoon I was on foot doing enforcement in a construction zone. The approaches were marked with three large signs displaying two flapping flags on each sign, followed by a construction speed sign. I wrote a speeding ticket to a woman who protested loudly all the time that I was writing that there was nothing at the roadside to tell her about the zone.

After I had issued her the ticket I helped her make a U-turn to go back and look for the signs. I told her that if they were not there, she should return and tell me. I would cancel the ticket. She never returned and that ticket was not disputed.

I measured a construction zone one year and calculated that it cost drivers a total of 74 seconds to slow to the construction zone speed limit as opposed to what was posted before construction started. The only drivers who come to mind for me where 74 seconds are critical are those that drive an ambulance or fire vehicles.

I would like to hope that we can all spare 74 seconds of our day to make it safer for everyone we share the highway with.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca

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