A recent hit-and-run incident in Burnaby, B.C. in which an SUV struck two traffic control persons (TCP) and sent one to hospital, shows the dangers TCPs face as they direct traffic on B.C.’s highways and byways.
Witness accounts suggest the driver had become impatient and tried to cut around other vehicles and drive ahead.
The SUV’s driver was arrested and charged with two counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, two counts of failing to stop at the scene of an accident and two counts of assault.
"Public motor vehicle operators are becoming less patient and more aggressive when in contact with our construction operations and the TCPs controlling the traffic flow through the work sites," said Glen Barker, senior project manager at NorLand Ltd. in Burnaby.
The BC Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA) says road safety is a two-way street: Employers need a sound traffic control plan in road construction zones, and drivers need to proceed cautiously and obey flaggers’ directions.
Rising tensions on the road that can lead to incidents between vehicles and TCPs have many causes, says BCCA’s Sarina Hanschke.
"There are more people living in distant suburbs, and they face longer commutes to and from work," said Hanschke. "There is an increasing number of tourists in B.C.. And life in general has become faster and filled with anxiety."
Another factor is the change in the design of cell phones.
"More cell phones today have touch-screens, so that users must focus more closely on the screens, taking their attention from the road," Hanschke said.
To clue aspiring TCPs in on the latest threats to their safety, and the general principles of traffic control, the BCCSA offers a two-day course that combines classroom and practical training and is the only program of its kind accepted by WorkSafeBC.
Students must learn a variety of tricky multi-tasking skills in order to become certified.
In addition to learning how to set up and use a variety of traffic control devices, they also learn how to talk to drivers and, to put it politely, how to respond to their questions and concerns.
After taking the course, students must pass a 40-question exam and a demonstrated practical competency test.
If they succeed, TCPs receive a record of completion that is good for three years before they need to re-qualify.
In 2017, there are just over 21,000 qualified TCPs in B.C.
Although only four percent of Canadian construction workers are female, most TCPs are women, Hanschke says.
"There are low barriers to joining the occupation," she said.
"Women see other women doing it and decide to give it a try. I know a lot of women who have worked their tail off as a single mother and have been able to provide for themselves and their children and maintain their independence proudly. There is something great to be said about that."
At the same time as the BCCSA is training TCPs, the BC Cone Zone Campaign has been doing its best to educate drivers not to run down flaggers.
Cone zones are work areas set up by roadside workers to protect themselves and the driving public.
In its seventh year, the campaign is a provincial initiative to improve the safety of roadside workers.
Beginning in May, it coincides with the increase in roadside work throughout the province in the warmer months of the year.
Major projects in 2017 include the Mountain Highway Interchange Project in North Vancouver; Hwy 91 at 72nd Ave. Interchange Project in Delta; Road resurfacing on Highway H19 in the Campbell River area; and the Burrard Corridor Infrastructure Upgrade in Vancouver.
"We want to remind drivers to slow down, pay attention to instructions from roadside workers, abide by temporary road signs and leave their phones alone," said Trina Pollard, Manager of Industry and Labour Services, WorkSafeBC.
"Every roadside worker deserves to make it home to their family at the end of their shift without injury."
The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) partnered with the Work Zone Safety Alliance and WorkSafeBC to kick off this year’s campaign with an enforcement blitz at a roadside worksite on a three-block downtown stretch of Burrard Street.
"Forty tickets were issued over 2.5 hours," said VPD sergeant Jeff Rice. "Of those tickets, 27 were for cell phone violations."
Kelly Scott, president of BC Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association, says the organization has been advocating for complete road closures.
"They significantly reduce the interaction between vehicle traffic and construction sites," Scott said. "Not only is it safer, the owner gets a higher-quality project and a shorter construction period."