Setting Up a Safe Traffic Control Zone

More than a thousand people are killed each year in work-zone traffic accidents. Eighty percent of those fatalities are drivers and their passengers. Speed and driver inattention are the leading causes of these preventable accidents. However, don’t get too comfortable-according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employees in these highway work zones have one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States.

Following are a few simple tips for setting up a safe work zone. 

  • The Expect the unexpected and never assume drivers see you. 
  • Understand that drivers may be confused, angry, or distracted when entering a work zone and may have difficulty negotiating the detours. 
  • When you set up a detour, try to avoid requiring drivers to make sudden lane changes or encounter unexpected road conditions, 
  • Always pay attention to the traffic. Beware of complacency. 
  • Never turn your back to oncoming traffic. If you do need to work with your back to the traffic, use a spotter. Have a communications plan between you and that spotter. 
  • All roadside workers must wear bright and highly reflective ANSI Class 3 protective garments. These garments are recommended for both day and night use, and they meet the requirement to be visible from 1,000 ft at night. 
  • Flaggers need to stand on the shoulder and focus on approaching vehicles. Avoid standing in the lane unless visibility is an issue. Once traffic is stopped, flaggers should move back to the shoulder of the road. 

Flagger Safety 

Traffic flaggers manage the safe flow of vehicles, equipment, and pedestrians in temporary traffic control zones. Their responsibilities are critical to the safety and welfare of their fellow workers, passing drivers, and pedestrians, 

To be both safe and effective, flaggers need to understand the overall project, the flow of the construction work and the workers, the jobsite’s equipment and machinery, and the ever changing pattern of activities. They need to anticipate and adjust their work in fast-changing situations, 

Two-way radio communication with the drivers of the construction equipment, with fellow flaggers with whom they need to coordinate traffic flow, and with the site manager is essential for maximum safety. 

Perhaps the biggest mistakes a flagger can make are to get too comfortable with the job and to lose concentration. 

Work-Zone Personal Protective Equipment 

Head protection must be worn at all times. In all heavy construction areas, required foot protection includes steel-toe shoes with heavy-duty soles to help prevent crushing and penetration. Flaggers are on their feet most of the time, so their shoes need to fit well and be comfortable. Hearing protection includes earplugs or high-tech earmuffs. 

For safety reasons, every worker should be able to hear the muted sounds of the construction site–and they should never wear headphones or headsets plugged into a music audio device. And don’t forget a face mask for dust protection. Frequent checks of the work-zone diversions and detours during construction will tell you if your temporary traffic control plan is being followed, that the traffic control devices are in their proper place and working, and that a safe, accessible pedestrian route is available at all times. 

For additional information, see the National Workzone Safety Information Clearinghouse website:, or the US Department of Transportation website on the topic: 

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