They are typically brightly dressed, often wearing flourescent rain gear during the heat of summer, and usually brandishing a smouldering tube of cut and dried tobacco leaves with which they slowly poison themselves while dodging two ton metal missiles. They are out there in all weathers, earning about $20 per hour on average, pointing out to drivers where they need to steer in order not to run them over, which usually entails also missing the major obstruction in the road, be it a large hole, a large something else, or...whatever.
I used to do stuff like this when I worked as a traffic cop. One of the things that we were responsible for at the scene of an accident was the safe movememnt of passing traffic (and more rarely, simply to close the road). I have, therefore, stood in the centre of a huge intersection with ten lanes of traffic from four different directions and managed the traffic flow in every direction, and I have done that successfully, and things like it, regularly. It therefore brings upon me a state of mild disbelief when I see the antics of these so-called professionally trained individuals on our local roads, struggling to manage a simple single lane diversion around some roadworks.
Last week I came around a bend at the end of a long straight section of road to find a flagger in the middle of the road just past the apex, gesticulating wildly for me to slow down. It didn't seem to enter her head that she was standing in THE most dangerous place to stand, and that no advance warning of her and her colleagues' presence had been posted prior to the bend. Common sense, I'd have thought, but apparently not. Today I was negotiating a single lane section and the guy in front of me, pulling an impressively large motor boat behind his impressively large raised truck suddenly slowed to a crawl - walking pace in fact, and painfully executed a turn from the running lane back to our normal lane at the end of the construction site. I wondered why he was driving so lowly until he moved out of the way and there, standing in the middle of the lane and offering almost no room to manouvre (despite the empty road behind her) was a small, typically dessicated middle aged woman wearing flourescent everything, huge mirror sunglasses, a hard hat and an expression of contempt.
I can only assume that massive consumption of cigarette smoke and persistent dehydration gives so many of these people the look of a famine victim combined with the skin texture of old, undernourished saddle leather. The sunglasses add to the image of other-worldliness and a lack of connection with the drivers they feebly wave their hand signs at, or whom they direct with their 'it's this way, stupid!' blindingly obvious pointy fingers (what else would I do, drive straight into the road roller?).
I don't have a problem with the concept of flaggers, and I'm sure that they receive adequate training - the issue for me is that so many of them seem to be trying to be cool about it (and reducing their movements to an absolute bare minumum), seem to be too apathetic to do it properly (an exhibit similar reluctance to move appropriately) or have no idea what they are trying to do. The 'STOP'/'SLOW" signs they wave about with a desultory air are used with a quite pathetic indifference, they rarely - if ever - make eye contact with an oncoming driver, and in my experience spend much of their time looking in the opposite direction to oncoming traffic. It's all rather bad. My personal anti-favourite is the flagger (most often a young female) who takes delight not in monitoring the traffic but in smiling and waving at drivers as they pass by...not exactly professional.
There have been some recent tragedies involving vehicles coming into abrupt, bone-crushing and flesh-rending contact with flaggers. No matter what their professional shortcomings (if any) may be, not one of them deserves to be ploughed into by some numbskull in a car or truck, but a great many of the ones I see don't do themselves any favours at all when it comes to minimising risks and properly controlling traffic flow in the safest possible way. It's about time the majority of responsible flaggers took th etrouble to weed out those who are adanger to themselves and everyone around them, and began demanding professionall standards of behaviour on the site