Training Tools Spotlight: Maintaining a Safe Work Zone with Traffic Control

June 13, 2017

By Jeff Gilmore, Safety Supervisor

Every day we face many potential hazards associated with our job, and vehicular traffic is at the top of the list. Combine vehicular traffic with distracted driving and you have a recipe for disaster. We must do everything we can to keep our workforce safe. This can be done by knowing when and how to set up the proper flagging operation to control traffic flow. While the requirements for the flagger, in general, change from state to state, when it comes to Temporary Traffic Control (TTC), it is common to follow the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). I advise that you check with your local government agencies to make sure you are aware of their laws and are within their compliance.

The first question to ask when setting up a jobsite along the roadway is, “Do I need to set up TTC?” The answer is obvious when working in a no passing zone, on a hill or along a winding road. But what about a roadway where you can see both ways? This is where you need to make a decision. The MUTCD states that if traffic can self-regulate, TTC is not needed. This means if traffic can see in both directions and safely maneuver around your jobsite, then flaggers are not needed to control flow. We work every day without using TTC, but I would give this advice: if there is any doubt about the safety of your crews, by all means, use the proper TTC. The one constant between all states is OSHA, and according to OSHA regulations, we must provide a safe work environment. If this cannot be done without the use of TTC, then the decision has been made for you.

Now, let’s talk TTC. I like to look at a flagging operation as having three lines of defense.

1. Advance Warning System (AWS)

Three signs must always be present: “Work Ahead,” “Lane Closure,” and “Flagger.” Signs must be in this order and spaced 10feet for every mile per hour. The flagger sign is always placed closest to the work zone, keeping in mind that inadequate sight distance from the AWS to the flagger is the leading cause of flagging accidents.

2. Flagger

The flagger is not only responsible for his/her own safety, but the safety of the entire worksite. Flaggers should always stand on the shoulder of the road, face traffic and shall use paddles when flagging. Some advice I always give is never stop a tractor trailer first because traffic coming up behind cannot see around and may try to go around. Another is motorcycles; unlike semis, motorcycles tend to blend in with the surroundings and may get ran into.

3. Buffer Zone

The buffer zone is an 80-100 foot coned area between the flagger and first piece of equipment. This zone has two purposes. The first being the safety of everyone involved. If a car isn’t paying attention and goes by the flagger, they will start hitting cones before they hit the equipment. We also use the buffer zone for emergency vehicles. If responding to a call, the buffer zone can be used to clear an open lane of traffic.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution on how to solve traffic issues faced daily. Hopefully, by using some of the tips mentioned above, it will make your TTC safer. Remember, signs and paddles area must, and extra cones can be used to gain additional attention. Be aware of your surroundings and keep in mind that there are distracted drivers on the road that could potentially harm you, so set up your jobsite so that you eliminate every hazard possible along the way.