You wouldn’t dream of letting your crew leave the office without the equipment needed to perform a survey. Tripods, instruments, rods, tapes, spray paint, stakes ... these are all important items required to get the job done. Along with the equipment, you provide training on how to retrieve the data. It doesn’t do any good to have a well-equipped vehicle if no one knows how to use the equipment.

But, what about traffic safety? Do you have everything your crew will need to prevent them from getting run over by today’s aggressive drivers? Even more important: have you provided the traffic safety training that is vitally important in protecting your crew?

A new version of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the national standard for procedures in work zone traffic safety, was published last December. Each state has either adopted the national standard exactly as it appears, or has tweaked the MUTCD to suit the individual state. Most experts agree that if a company works in more than one state, following the MUTCD should keep the company out of trouble. There may be some minor differences among states, so it is best to check with each state department of transportation to verify any specifications. (The MUTCD is the same set of guidelines used in the design of a highway system. The specific area of concern for surveyors would be Part 6, Temporary Traffic Control.)

A Proper Work Zone

Figure 1 shows all of the elements of a properly controlled work zone. The elements start with the Advance Warning Area. Keep in mind that as speeds increase, this distance must also increase. In some cases you may need more than one set of “Survey Crew” or “Worker Ahead” signs in advance of the area. If you are required to have someone flagging traffic, a universal symbol sign or “Flagger Ahead” sign is required. The Transition Area should smoothly move the traffic out of the normal path of travel. It is important for this action to be smooth; abrupt changes can and will cause accidents. The Buffer Space gives a margin of safety to allow workers to get out of the way if an intrusion takes place. The Work Space is the area where the work is taking place. The Termination Area moves traffic back to its normal flow. When perusing the MUTCD, notice many variations of this basic format. Some of them are so complex it could take hours if not days to complete the setup. Traffic control for surveying crews is fairly simple, but without applying these basic rules the outcome can be deadly. In fact, for short duration tasks there are even some allowances in the MUTCD that don’t even require signs or cones, just a vehicle with an amber strobe or revolving light.

In all of the pages of the MUTCD, there is only one job description that has a drawing specifically relating to surveyors. Typical application 16 shows how to properly demarcate a centerline surveying job (see Figure 2.). Though you may not set up your equipment exactly like the drawing, it can be beneficial to note how the area is protected. First, you will see two advance warning signs in each direction. The small orange dots represent traffic cones. The red flags represent the flaggers. In today’s ideal traffic safety world, the flagger never uses a flag; preference is given to using the “STOP/SLOW” paddle. There can be no doubt what someone means when the sign is displayed, but when someone waves around a flag it can become confusing. In fact, the only time an actual flag is to be used is in emergency situations. ANSI (American National Standards Institute) has specific guidelines for paddle construction and flag construction. Before purchasing either of these, make certain you are getting the correct item for your application.


Traffic cones are available from many suppliers and manufacturers. One of the largest suppliers is Service and Materials, Chesterfield, Mo. The company’s website,, showcases its product line. The site provides assistance in defining traffic safety products. Service and Materials’ 2001 catalog is comprehensive and shows everything needed for work zone traffic safety. When scanning this catalog you will note many sizes and types of traffic cones. By looking at Figure 3, note the MUTCD specifications for two basic sizes of traffic safety cones. Either an 18" or 28" cone is what a surveyor should be using. I have seen just about every type and size of safety cone in field crew vehicles. My recommendation is to purchase the 28" cones. The 18" cones are only good for up to 40 mph; there are few surveyors who will ever be on a roadway with a speed greater than 40 mph. Rather than stocking two sizes of cones it just makes sense to purchase the 28" cones.

Safety Vests

Another important item in traffic safety is the safety vest. Many people are surprised to find out that there are particular classes of safety vests that should be worn for maximum protection. The revised ANSI standards on vests base the classes on how much background material is present and how much reflective material is present. The box to the left details the three classes of safety vests.

As you can see, a class 1 vest should probably never be worn by a surveying crew. There may be situations where a class 2 vest would be usable, but many situations require a class 3 vest. As with the safety cones, there is no need to stock more than one type of vest, so a class 3 vest would normally be the best option. There is currently a problem in the vest industry in that some of the smaller sizes of vests can’t get a class 3 rating because there isn’t enough material or reflective striping. Be cautious of someone who says a vest is class 3 if the label doesn’t indicate class 3. Going to your local hardware store or home center is probably not the best choice for procuring a vest. Get the proper type of vest from a company with a good selection and sales people who are knowledgeable about vest requirements.

Hard Hats

I receive a lot of inquiries about wearing hard hats. There is no doubt that if you are involved in a roadway construction project, hard hats have to worn. The normal criteria for wearing hard hats applies: ask yourself, “Is there a potential for something to fall from above or fly into the sides of the head that could harm an employee?” Some guidelines say that a bright colored hat is required in work zones to add a degree of visibility. There isn’t a clear path to follow here, but the wearing of a brightly colored hat—preferably a hard hat—is always advisable. It may even be required in some situations.

Safety Training

Now, about training. Just how much traffic safety training is adequate for field crews? I personally do not recommend any less than a half day session with someone who really knows traffic standards. I could easily justify a day-long class. There is so much to absorb that it can’t be accomplished in a short period of time. There are some states that require anyone who performs flagging to attend a state-accredited class. These classes are generally one day and instruct the person how to safely flag traffic. Your state department of transportation should be able to give you any special requirements. Traffic safety training should be no different than training for equipment use; it should be required before anyone who goes into the field.

If you need a copy of the MUTCD, it can be purchased from the federal government and most state departments of transportation. It is also available for free on the Internet at (Remember, the items you will need for traffic safety are contained in Part 6. I recommend you print it in color to get full benefit of the drawings.)

I hope this will help in your quest to protect crews while in traffic. With all of the standards and recommendations available, there should be no reason for a crew to work without protection. Getting informed about the requirements of traffic safety is simply good business. In 2000, surveyors were placed in the top 10 list of occupations with workers killed in roadway worksite accidents. The time to act on traffic safety is now. Protecting your most valuable asset—your employees—should be the prime concern of any business owner. Remember, traffic safety is more than just a cone!

The figures that accompany this article are too detailed to reproduce online. However, you can download the figures byclicking here.