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The need for change in determining when to use flaggers

I recently obtained the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report on Fatal Occupational Injuries to Flaggers at road construction sites. In 2016, 10 flagger deaths were reported. The high number of deaths, in just one year, confirms that the current Engineering Controls, Personal Protective Equipment and Regulations are not effective at preventing flagger fatalities.

The current standard indicating that a feasible means of addressing struck-by hazards is the wearing of high-visibility apparel is no longer a feasible means to protect flaggers exposed to risky drivers. The fact that we have not yet eliminated drunk drivers, distracted drivers, speeding drivers, drug impaired drivers and drowsy drivers substantiates the need for new regulations to prevent flagger fatalities.

According to the latest BLS report, 30 flaggers were killed between 2011 to 2017. We can reasonably expect at least another 30 flaggers to be killed in the next 7 years unless drastic changes are made.

Here is just one of the many stories I found on the web about a flagger killed and another seriously injured in Oregon – August 2018:

A 76-year-old Milton-Freewater man faces manslaughter, DUI, hit-and-run after killing Flagger, Tyresa Monaghan, 49, of Kennewick, Washington. A second flagger was seriously injured in a construction zone crash south of Monmouth Wednesday night. The common factor – people are putting themselves on the line to protect travelers and employees in the work zone, ODOT said in a news release Thursday.

Who decides on which traffic control device a flagger should use?

 OSHA – 1926.20(a) Contractor Requirements
(1) Section 107 of the Act requires that it shall be a condition of each contract which is entered into under legislation subject to Reorganization Plan Number 14 of 1950 (64 Stat. 1267), as defined in 1926.12, and is for construction, alteration, and/or repair, including painting and decorating, that no contractor or subcontractor for any part of the contract work shall require any laborer or mechanic employed in the performance of the contract to work in surroundings or under working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to his health or safety.

Contractor requirements are for worker safety, but the engineer specifies the type of traffic control device operated by the flagger when a standard drawing is issued. According to the MUTCD “Engineering judgement should be exercised in the selection and application of traffic control devices.”

A stop/slow paddle is a traffic control device and as such, it is not up to the contractors’ on-site safety professional to determine which traffic control device to use to regulate traffic (i.e. a stop/slow paddle or an AFAD).

MUTCD Standard: 01
Traffic control devices shall be defined as all signs, signals, markings, and other devices used to regulate, warn, or guide traffic, placed on, over, or adjacent to a street, highway, … by authority of a public agency or official having jurisdiction.

Contractors simply follow the standard drawings issued by the engineer under the direction of the road authority. Standard drawings should include notes for alternative traffic control devices such as rumble strips or AFADs, so that the on-site safety professional can select from a list of options for the safest method of traffic control for each unique work zone condition.

The work performed by a flagger holding a stop/slow paddle while standing at the edge of a roadway is a working condition that is hazardous and dangerous to their health and should be recognized nationally by OSHA regulation. Without a regulation on when to use flaggers, there is no legal requirement that can be enforced by OSHA. Engineers and on-site safety professionals are not required by law to assess the risk of a flagger holding onto a stop/slow paddle while being exposed to risky drivers. The large number of flagger fatalities reported annually support the need for new regulations.

I have several meetings lined up this summer with some key decision makers within our industry.  I’m sensing that we are starting to gain some traction with respect to major changes to how we control traffic and specifically, how we can make flagging operations safer. More to follow in the coming months!

Peter Vieveen
Founder and Chairman