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Flaggers are Key to Roadside Safety

As summer approaches, the weather in Colorado has warmed up and the construction crews have come out. Whether your district is performing road maintenance or water and sanitation utility work, proper coordination of flagger safety is essential for everyone’s safety.

Before you begin flagging operations, you will need to meet certain state requirements. First, employees designated as flaggers must go through a CDOT flagger course and hold a valid CDOT flagger card.

Once your employees are certified, you will need to setup your site, which includes preemptively identifying and addressing hazards. To set up your work zone, follow the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices on proper signage and temporary traffic control devices1.

Try to position your flaggers’ stations to be highly visible to oncoming traffic. The distance you set warning signs should be determined by the speed limit of the road. Make sure that you are not placing flaggers’ stations after a curve so that drivers can see your employees early enough to slow down. Visibility also applies to what your flaggers are wearing. Wear the correct class of vest for the speed limits you are working in and have the florescent hardhats that CDOT requires in Colorado2.

Now that you have identified your work zone, determined the location of road closures, and selected your flaggers’ visible positions, it’s time for some preemptive troubleshooting. Consider worst-case scenarios and how you are going to address them.

Stay Frosty

The monotonous nature of flagging work can be an issue. It can be difficult, even tiring, to be alert for a prolonged period of time. Flagging is very dangerous in part because of the combination of unknown elements and worker boredom.

Remind your flaggers that they must pay attention to vehicles and the habits of the people driving them. They should try to make eye contact with the drivers as much as possible. This eye contact ensures the driver is not glancing at the car stereo or a cell phone.

Communication

Communication is absolutely key in safety, and that is true even at loud worksites on roadsides. Fortunately there are ways you can stay in touch with others in these situations. Mini air horns that clip to the flagger’s vest are instrumental in notifying entire crews of a peril in loud environments. If an oncoming vehicle poses a threat, the quick utility of an air horn beats a radio every time, and gives everyone a chance to get out of the way.

Communication to the public ties into many aspects of what you do as well. Being visible is part of the communication process, but it may also be helpful to allow the public to inquire about what you are working on and how long it will take. If you have a planned operation, consider sending out mailers to the neighborhood about your road closures.

Public Safety

Staying alert is critical to the safety of the community. As a Project Safety Manager, I worked on several projects that required flaggers. My responsibilities included training and helping flaggers. Fortunately, I never saw a flagger get hurt, but I have seen many drivers speed through work zones without paying attention to traffic control. This unfortunately led to a few fatal car accidents within these zones, caused by drivers crashing into barricades or equipment. Our preparations prevented three incidents from becoming much worse.

As your crews get out onto the road this summer, be careful and make sure you have addressed your risks in those particular operations.

Sources:
1. https://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/pdfs/2009r1r2/pdf_index.htm
2. https://www.codot.gov/library/traffic/traffic-standards/2012-s-standard-plans

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