Flag Person: A High Risk Occupation

Flagperson SignIf 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 3 large signs displaying 2 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.


Are good flaggers victims of the poor ones

I don't think anyone would dispute that flag persons have a dangerous job.  However many motorists have a low opinion of those employed to regulate traffic in and around construction zones.  Could that be because there is a percentage of flaggers who demonstrate a lack of professionality ?

Some are really great, executing a tough job, yes standing all day directing traffic is hard.  Others display a "OK, I'll never make a cop but I can exercise authority over motorists in this job".

We've all come across a "Slow Construction Ahead" with a lowered speed limit and after 5, 10, 15 kms realized there is no construction zone, they are all gone home for the evening/weekend/forever ?, no workers, no equipment, no nothing.  So, when do you "resume" ?  There is no resume sign either ???

I recall travelling N/B past Gorman Brothers lumber mill just South of West Kelowna.  I was second in line and I distinctly recall thinking to myself, "hey this guy in front of me is actually obeying the construction zone limit",,, sadly sometimes a rarity.  As the vehicle ahead of me arrived at the location of a female flagger, she raised her "Slow" sign and quickly stepped partially in front of him and in a chopping motion swung the sign at the vehicle in front of me quite violently, almost hitting his hood, mouthing the words "slow down".  He swerved to the left, fortunately there was no oncoming vehicle.  ???  He was travelling at the posted construction speed !

The time outside of Kamloops a male flagger paying so little attention to his job, held up the "Slow" side of his sign to stop the traffic then when it was time to go, turned the "Stop" side towards the traffic and waved us through.


Time Spent

Years ago, while pulling a trailer on the Island Highway in Nanaimo, I just missed the traffic light at Aulds Rd. I cursed. Then I remembered, I stop at red lights for a living.

I then timed my stop until the light went green again. 1 minute and 20 seconds. Out of what was going to be a 10-12 hour day. I spend more than that 100 seconds on the toilet.


That was a great analogy. 


That's an informative piece that you've posted, with many useful links.

But inasmuch as drivers are expected to follow the rules, and may be ticketed if they don't (which is as it should be), then what are the penalties for construction crews and flaggers who don't do their job properly? Stuff like monitoring the traffic, instead of turning their backs to it - after all, they are traffic control devices, by definition.

Responsibilities work both ways. 

Interesting Thought

There are no consequences in the Motor Vehicle Act for being a lousy flagger.

Of course, you could lose your job and you could attract major liability if a collision occurs because of something that you did or didn't do that resulted in a crash.

I have occasionally found a flagger that did not clearly indicate to me what they wanted me to do as well.

Incompetent Flagging

Have often considered taking the course so that I could get in the head of a flagger.

If you feel strongly about a situation take the time to make a complaint. All construction signs have the name, address, phone number on how to contact them. I have only done it a few times but I have stopped and made a verbal complaint immediately and getting the name of the person I talked to. Follow this up with a written complaint to the contractor and the MoTH outlining your concerns, who you discussed it with and make it clear you require a written reply.

Even if you don't make a verbal complaint start with letters to both the MoTH and contractor. They are required to comply. All agencies you contacted will look into your complaint and follow up. If no one says anything sub-standard procedures can continue for months.

Most companies recognize the fact that few will take the time to lodge a complaint so when they do receive one it does trigger an investigation. Accidents are serious infractions and if there is ever an accident contributed to poor work procedures it could have serious consequences.

If you have a dashcam send a copy along. The old saying a picture is worth a thousand words and if your complaint is legitimate I am sure it will be rectified.

What to Do?

I am CSO for a construction company along Cambie St. on Vancouver BC. as well I am supporting my team with the flagger position on the road.

Unfortunately many crazy drivers, driving more than 60km.

Today we have to diverge the traffic only one lane on Cambie street. for 5min. due having heavy machinery and risky load on the air. A black Navigator with a license plate KE962 Ford. threat me pushing his car closest as possible to me and saying "&*%# off the road, I am on my right and I have camera recording everything.

Can something be possible to do with this kind of drivers?

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