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Automated flagger could improve Saskatchewan highway safety

Click to play video: 'Technology may replace flag people in highway construction zones' Technology may replace flag people in highway construction zones
WATCH ABOVE: It’s a dangerous job and people in Saskatchewan have been injured over the years being a flag person in highway construction zones. Ryan Kessler explains how a simple traffic signal system could make the zones safer – May 13, 2016

SASKATOON – When a flag person was injured on a Saskatchewan highway last August, his employer decided it was time to change the way traffic flows through a construction zone. Instead of having flaggers stand on the road, they were replaced by an Automated Flagger Assisted Device (AFAD).

An AFAD is essentially a portable traffic signal operated remotely. The light flashes green for ‘go’ and red for ‘stop.’

“It’s engrained in our minds from the minute we’re learning to drive,” said Brennan Wiens, human resources and training manager at Potzus Paving & Road Maintenance.

READ MORE: Sask. driver in flag worker death granted bail after appeal filed

The company built two AFADs after the collision last August near Paradise Hill, Sask.

Wiens said a driver missed multiple warning signs before colliding with a parked vehicle in a construction zone. The second vehicle was sent toward the flagger.

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“The vehicle was pushed into him, threw him into the ditch and knocked him unconscious,” Wiens said.

The employee survived, but never returned to the job.

Once Potzus started using AFADs, Wiens said there was a noticeable difference in driver behaviour.

“They immediately would stop. The first time we did it, turned it to red, the motorist stopped. Turned it to green, the motorist went through the zone. No problems,” Wien said.

After seeing the AFAD’s effectiveness, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure started planning to build similar units.

“It seems so simple and yet we haven’t done it before and I’m not sure why,” said Highways and Infrastructure Minister Nancy Heppner, who didn’t have a number of how many will be created.

The signal could curb work zone incidents like the 2012 collision that killed flag person Ashley Richards.

“Whatever we can do to make work zones safer, we’re in favour of,” Heppner said.

One AFAD retails for about $20,000, according to Wiens. However, the provincial government has its own supplies and would only be paying for labour to create the units, Heppner said.

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