As National Work Zone Awareness Week approaches, members of the roadway safety industry are emphasizing the importance of flagger training and certification.
More than flipping a paddle, the job of a flagger in a work zone is crucial to the safety of workers on the job site and the motoring public. Flaggers serve as the first line of defense for roadway workers and help drivers navigate work zones safely.
While it may seem like a simple job to the untrained eye, flagging requires proper training to ensure workers have the right knowledge to safely manage any circumstances that can arise in a work zone.
Training for an Important Job
For the last 50 years, the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) has been offering flagger certification training courses across the country. ATSSA Chief Instructor Juan M. Morales, who developed ATSSA’s flagger course, said the comprehensive 4-hour trainings and professional workbook are designed to prepare flaggers for a wide range of challenges.
In the course, flaggers are trained to stay alert, always face oncoming traffic and stay on the shoulder of the road with a planned escape route. The training covers all the situations flaggers might run into, from how to deal with emergency vehicles to encountering distracted drivers.
“It's not a matter of just flipping the paddle. It's all the what-ifs, and anticipating what could go wrong and what to do if that happens,” Morales said. “It’s a tough and important job.”
ATSSA’s flagger course is available across much of the country, both in-person and online and in English and Spanish.
While ATSSA’s online flagger certification course has always been a popular option, the organization worked with Departments of Transportation to increase the number of states accepting the course in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Pre-COVID, there were many states that only accepted in-person flagger training; we worked with many of the departments of transportation and now, 30 states accept online certification,” said Rameeza Shaikh, ATSSA Training Director.
A Focus on Work Zone Safety
Flagger training and work zone safety go hand in hand and is especially crucial now as roadway fatalities are on the rise in recent years. Fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2020 increased 8 percent over the previous year despite a drop in driving because of the pandemic, according to a recent report by the National Safety Council (NSC). Preliminary data suggests 42,060 people died and 4.8 million were seriously injured in crashes in 2020. The rate of death from that data shows a 24 percent rise over the previous year though motorists traveled 13 percent fewer miles. According to the report, that accounted for the biggest year-over-year increase in 96 years.
Shedding light on this issue is National Work Zone Awareness Week, April 26-30, an annual public awareness campaign organized by ATSSA. The week starts with Work Zone Safety Training Day, which emphasizes the importance of laying the groundwork for safety through training of personnel. Companies are encouraged to pause during the workday for safety demonstrations, discussions about safety policies and other prevention steps.
On April 27 is the national kickoff event, hosted this year by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). The event is set for 11 a.m. at an MDOT project site on M-49 in Macomb County. It will be livestreamed for those who would like to tune in from around the country.
Chuck Bergmann, MDOT Work Zone Tech Specialist and organizer of the kickoff event, said the day aims to bring awareness to work zone safety and bring recognition to the families of the workers who were struck and killed in work zones in the last year. Multiple guests will speak on roadway safety and a memorial for fallen workers will be on display.
“We just want to bring awareness to the motoring public to drive safely through our work zones, and then also to our workers to not become complacent when they're out there, because anything could happen at any time,” Bergmann said.
For those interested in participating in National Work Zone Awareness Week, Bergmann encourages people to visit www.nwzaw.org. The site has information about events, a free poster, and other accessories available for purchase with the proceeds benefiting the American Traffic Safety Services Foundation, which provides Scholarships for family members of workers who have been injured or killed in work zone incidents. For more details on ATSSA’s flagger certification training courses, visit ATSSA.com/Flagger.