“Flagging is the most dangerous job performed by Laborers,” says Rick Heinz, a member of local 477 and, himself, a flagger. “But it’s about to get a lot safer.”

Heinz is the inventor and patent holder of the J-4 Flagger Workstation, recently approved for use nationwide by the U.S. Department of Transportation. “We’ll begin mass production later this spring.”

Heinz is careful not to make predictions, but, clearly, he believes his invention could transform the way flagging is done in work zones across the country. “One out of every three flaggers is injured or killed some time during their work careers,” says Heinz, citing injury statistics that list the flagger classification highest among all laborer jobs. “This is going to make work safer,” he says, adding, “It’s going to help contractors lower their workers’ compensation insurance costs, too.”

Basically, the workstation, without any diminishment in overall safety performance, allows separation between the flagger and the work zone traffic flow through use of a mechanical sign and remote control device.

“Until now, a flagger had to stand right up next to the moving vehicles,” Heinz notes. “With the J-4, the flagger stands in a cleared radius up to 25 feet away, yet still exercises effective control of traffic flow.”

The J-4 workstation is a reversible STOP/SLOW sign mounted on an extendable, 14-foot pole that turns 180 degrees at the push of a button. It dwarfs the standard seven-foot pole, plus it accommodates 24 X 28.5-inch signs, substantially larger than the standard 18-inch paddle. The sign also is augmented with strobe lights (red for STOP and yellow for SLOW). All these features make the sign far more visible to drivers than traditional paddles.

The workstation has four retractable, stabilizing outriggers for easy leveling. It has a push bar handle and six-inch, all-terrain, pneumatic, front caster wheels and eight-inch, self-locking rear wheels for easy mobility. The entire unit weighs only 205 pounds. The sign is vented to ensure stability in windy situations. The workstation also was designed and field-tested to assure crashworthiness as required by the NCHRP 350.

The remote control device is attached by cable and operated by a flagger who remains within 25-feet of the traffic flow but outside immediate danger. Heinz and his partners are also designing a radio-controlled remote device. A rechargeable, twelve-volt deep cycle battery provides electrical power.

In field tests authorized by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), the J-4 proved highly effective in all kinds of weather and on all terrains.

“This device was invented by a Laborer for a Laborer,” says Heinz. “That’s why so many things have been so carefully considered and included in its design. I named it the J-4 because all my boys have names that start with J. I want flaggers to come home everyday to their families, and this machine was designed to make sure that happens.”

The workstations will retail for about $3000. More information about the J4 is available from Endless Visions, Inc., P.O. Box 45, Rushville, IL 62681. The email address is brh1@Frontiernet.net.

[Steve Clark]