Thursday, August 15, 2013
It happened again. Another flag person was hit and badly hurt in another roadway incident. Another community shocked by the tragedy; another call from police looking for witnesses. Add another tragic case to approximately 400 or so that occurred in this province alone in the last decade. This particular incident occurred in Northern BC on July 21st, but a quick scan of any news feed will show you just how common this sort of incident really is in North America.
In the US, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in their Fatal occupational injuries by selected characteristics, 2003-2011 publication 373 entirely preventable worker deaths while directing or flagging traffic. Despite our best efforts at education, on-site warnings, large signs proclaiming “My Mommy works here”, even labeling cones with the words “Mom” and “Dad”, it just keeps happening.
A few days ago I was out for a walk. At one intersection, a crew of electricians was working on the overhead traffic signals. A flagger was controlling some of the traffic lanes and also directing pedestrians to cross when safe to do so. She was about five and a half feet tall but with the hi-viz fluorescent green/yellow coveralls and jacket, hard hat and safety boots she had a six foot presence.
I watched as she used her body language, voice, stop/slow sign, and eye contact to effectively manage the flow of most drivers and pedestrians. However, in the space of two minutes, she was nearly hit twice. Both drivers were down the road in an instant; and one actually slowed down, turned and sheepishly mouthed “Sorry”… the other just accelerated through the intersection in a literal cloud of dust. Through all of this, the flagger stayed calm and focused on her immediate task: the safety of crew, drivers and pedestrians like me.
In an extended break in the action as the equipment and crews were out of the intersection, I asked her about her job and, in particular, what she thought was behind the two close calls I witnessed. She said, “It happens all the time” and added, “If you could see the [stuff] I see…”.
She described people on their cell phones or texting, others with dogs on their laps, and even a cab driver—supposedly a professional driver—eating noodle soup from a bowl. “If you could see the [stuff] I see…”
Her comment got me thinking. Red light cameras are widely accepted. I note some jurisdictions are putting photo radar in construction zones (Saskatchewan). Others are banning cell phone use in construction zones (in Illinois, any phone use at all, hands-free or hand-held, is illegal statewide in school and construction zones) but I don’t know of any jurisdiction that installs “cone zone cameras” –not to detect speeding in construction zones but to actually record what the flagger actually sees. Why don’t we have “cone zone cameras” ?
Police cruisers are fitted with dashboard cameras, cabs have cameras that record passengers, some police forces and security personnel have wearable video recorders. Why not flaggers? Video evidence is curtailing property crime and has been invaluable to investigators when serious incidents occurs on transit systems, in airports and at public events.
Most of us respect flag personnel. Most of us understand the inherent risk their jobs entail. Most of us will not speed by them, cut corners, or disobey their directions. For the few that do, my guess is that the behavior is not isolated to a particular cone zone and one particular time. Identification and intervention may make a difference but most of our ad campaigns and public education are preaching to the converted. Perhaps a database of outrageous violations will help us identify those that really need to hear the message.
Flagging should not mean putting your life on the line or under the wheel of a distracted driver’s car or a bloody image in the rear view mirror of someone who really couldn't care less. Cone zone cameras focused on the “stuff” flaggers actually see might be an added deterrent and could help make a difference.