"We are at quite a high risk from the driver when there is an accident or vehicular hazard," says Karesse Glover, a former flagger, or traffic control person, who now co-owns Coquitlam-based Traffic Pro Services.
"We're talking about creating a partnership with the driver that allows the driver to see us and react to us in time, so we can go home safe to our families."
Between 2004 and 2013, 239 roadside worker motor vehicle incidents were reported to WorkSafeBC, and 15 resulted in a fatality. Glover says population increases and new technology pose unprecedented challenges for traffic control workers.
Drivers on cell phones while waiting
In May Coquitlam RCMP conducted a traffic enforcement campaign along Pinetree Way near Lougheed Highway, near construction for the Evergreen rapid transit line.
More than 1,100 tickets were issued, says Cpl. Jamie Chung. Thirteen per cent were for speeding, 30 per cent were for unsafe driving, while 20 per cent were for distracted driving.
"We think part of the reason is because it's stop and go traffic. And when people are stopping, they pull out their cell phone, they check their message, they reply to emails, which is basically a no-no," says Cpl. Chung.
New traffic conditions on Pinetree Way include reduced lanes, new crosswalk locations and restrictions on turning right at red lights. RCMP are also handing out information leaflets to reduce confusion.
Glover says proper signage that is easily visible and gives advanced warning are ways to reduce driver confusion and prevent hazardous behaviour.
Inconsistency confuses drivers
But Glover is concerned inconsistency among construction zones, which are set up by an array traffic control companies, also leaves drivers confused.
"When we do have uniformity, the driver learns how to respond, because they see the same thing. Right now, the drivers are encountering a number of different situations, and then coming to the next site and being confused all over again."
The B.C. Construction Alliance is currently updating a traffic control safety course, and safety at construction projects are overseen by WorksafeBC and municipal governments.
The B.C. Ministry of Transportation requires consistency among work sites, but there is no regulatory body to ensure common standards.
Relationship with drivers crucial
While encounters between drivers and traffic control workers can, at times, become antagonistic, Glover says her industry has taken a new approach, focusing on strengthening the relationship by giving clear direction to drivers and reducing the chance for conflict.
"We understand that they're being delayed, and try to accommodate them in a timely fashion. A clear response comes from clear direction. A confused response comes from lack of direction"
Catch Michelle Eliot with On the Move, a segment on commuter issues, Tuesdays at 6:50 on The Early Edition, CBC Radio 1, 88.1 FM / 690 AM in Vancouver