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The Dangerous Job of the Flagger

In the morning of September 25th, 2009, a Honda SUV driven by a 29-year-old driver struck a 23-year-old flag person or ‘flagger’ working in the 7200-block of the Ladner Trunk Road for her employer, Mainland Civil Works Ltd.

Media reports indicate the driver was arrested but released uncharged, although police were considering a charge of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.  The flagger underwent surgery to repair her broken pelvis, arm, sternum, ribs, cheek, and nose.  The inference from the follow-up reports upgrading her condition from critical to “steadily improving” is that she is very lucky to be alive.

Injury lawyer talks about the accident between the driver and the flagger

Sub-contractors who specialize in providing the personnel, equipment and services needed to create a safe work site for road construction building or repair crews usually employ flaggers or, more formally, Traffic Control Persons.  Summertime is usually the busiest season for road construction projects but, these days, with the push on for the Olympics, it’s almost impossible to drive anywhere at any time without seeing a flagger or some evidence of a traffic control crew. In fact, we see flaggers so commonly that it’s easy to underestimate what they do, how risky it is, and the important contribution they make to every road user’s safety and to maximizing traffic flow.

Flaggers are certified after receiving training that covers WorkSafeBC and BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure regulations, setting-up and dismantling a safe work zone, equipment placement and operation, communication techniques, and dealing with public relations, emergencies and all types of weather.

Sadly, the above story isn’t unique.  From 2005 to 2008 in BC, 15 flaggers, have been hit on the job, two of whom—Theresa Newman in 2006 and Terry Mitchell in 2008—died from their injuries.  Other sources claim that more than 400 traffic control people have been injured in road construction zones over the past five years.

These statistics prompted WorkSafeBC, in partnership with road building contractors, other large construction companies and municipalities throughout the lower mainland to launch the “Slow Down” sign campaign in July 2007.  Large images of real people including flaggers, construction workers, equipment operators, and utility workers dressed in their working clothes but with their family, and the message, “SLOW DOWN Our mommy (or daddy or grandpa) works here” were erected at large on road work sites.

So far, 50 families have been profiled.  Recently, however, prompted by the story related above, 60 people, representing about seven different traffic control contractors staged their own protest to draw attention to the ongoing problem.  One spokesperson for the protestors was quoted as saying “There are going to be a lot more protests over drivers in BC who are using cell phones, texting, putting on makeup and reading directions, while speeding.”

The temptation for motorists is to impose their own judgment on the directions being given by a flagger. In other words, flaggers are often ignored.  Failing to operate a vehicle other than as directed by a flagger can result in a $196 fine, and police have the authority to double the fine for speeding in a marked construction zone.

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