A flagger is an individual who directs traffic around obstacles or obstructions in the roadway. The flagger's job is to keep motorists and pedestrians safe by warning them of dangers ahead. In doing so, he also keeps road workers safer by alerting motorists to their presence. Many flagger positions are found in the construction industry, particularly with road work companies. The flagger may also be a state or government worker, and may be employed with fire or police crews to help direct traffic during an emergency.
When the road is blocked by construction, potholes, fallen trees or other obstructions, the flagger uses flags, signs or hand signals to guide traffic. He holds a "Stop" sign or red flag out in front of traffic, and uses his other hand to signal the cars to stop. When it's safe for the cars to move again, he switches to a "Slow" sign, or moves his flag out of the path of traffic. He also waves cars forward using his free hand. A flagger may also use a combination of flags and hand signals to alert drivers of potential hazards without forcing them to stop completely.
Flaggers are typically stationed far ahead of the obstruction site. They wear reflective gear to help drivers see them better, and often wear standard safety items such as hard hats and work boots. The flagging site may also be illuminated at night so drivers are better able to see the flagger and follow his signals.
Those interested in pursuing flagging careers must be prepared to work outdoors under a wide range of conditions. They must be willing to stand for long periods and should be comfortable dealing with the public. Flaggers and other road workers face constant risk from traffic, and should take as many precautions as possible to protect themselves and avoid accidents.
Many states require flaggers to undergo training programs developed by the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA). Those states that do not require ATSSA training may have their own programs through the State Highway Administration or other agencies. To achieve certification through these programs, applicants must complete safety training and pass a written exam. While some individual companies may hire individuals who have not been previously certified, the local government may not allow these individuals to act as flaggers in certain scenarios. Outside of the US, certification requirements vary widely, but many countries have some form of training or certification program similar to those developed by ATSSA.