Alyssa Ursel is one of the many people whose job is to safeguard fellow roadside workers by guiding drivers through highway work zones, or “Cone Zones.” She is a flagger, also known as a traffic control person.
She is also a new mother.
Like many new moms returning to work after maternity leave, she has mixed emotions. Excited to be working again at a job she enjoys, but also nervous about being away from the little one she loves.
It can be hard enough returning to a workplace safely behind office walls, but Alyssa is returning to a workplace where her safety depends greatly on driver behaviour.
Alyssa was kind enough to share her thoughts on returning to work as a traffic control person on BC highways.
TranBC: Hi Alyssa. Tell us about yourself.
Alyssa: I’m a flagger with Steetwise Traffic Controllers, based out of Chilliwack BC. I live in Chilliwack with my partner and 11-month-old daughter Alice, and our dog Bluto. We just recently became co-homeowners with my family, so we’ve been busy enjoying our new yard and planting gardens.
How much experience do you have as a traffic control person?
I took the past year off with Alice, but I had been doing this for five years before that. I’ve worked in residential areas and spent a lot of time on highways, like east of Hope on the Coquihalla. And in all weather, too. I go back to work this month, and I’m looking forward to it. But it will be a big change.
Will going back to work be different now that you have a daughter?
Definitely. I’m always very careful out there, but when you have a little one, you are not caring about yourself as much – it’s more about who you are going home to at the end of the day.
What challenges are involved with traffic controlling?
I think the hardest part is conveying messages to the public as they come through our sites. We don’t have much time to give warnings and we really need drivers’ attention. So, the hardest part is getting our messages out clear and concise, but also quickly.
Have you ever come close to being hit by a vehicle while on the job?
I have been very lucky. I’ve only had one near miss – someone going very fast down a hill. I do know a few other people who have had near misses, and friends who have friends who have actually been in accidents with drivers going through their sites. It really makes you worry about going to work the next day. It makes your job seem really real all of a sudden.
What do you enjoy about being a traffic control person?
I love being outside. I love the fresh air, and being in nature.
I also like the thrill of not knowing what the job is going be. I’ve had many calls at like 2 a.m., “hey, let’s go to Boston Bar right now.” OK, let’s do it. It’s exciting.
Now I have a baby, so I might not be as quick to jump on that. (laughs)
Do you find, for the most part, people are respectful in Cone Zones?
It depends on the time of day and the area. If you are in a site for a long time, for example, you get to know the locals and they seem to understand what we’re doing and are friendly. For the most part people are respectful, but I’ve had a few choice words and gestures thrown at me. You brush it off at the end of the day.
What does the Cone Zone BC safety awareness campaign mean to you and your family?
It’s really nice to know that people have our backs out there, reminding people to watch out for us. My partner is in construction, so we’re both affected by it.
What do you want drivers to keep in mind when they’re passing through construction zones, or Cone Zones?
I would like everyone to keep in mind that we are trying to get you through as safely and efficiently as possible. Please slow down and stay alert. We all want to get home safely at the end of the day.
Do you, or someone close to you, work roadside? What do you want drivers to keep in mind? Let us know in the comments section below.