How To Become A Traffic Controller
by Daniel Green
Like an episode of The Block, construction projects in major urban centres are always fighting for real estate. No matter where you turn you’ve got to share space with anyone and everyone, including road traffic. Take the Marrickville Metro upgrade that marched along despite the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. All four streets around the new building were upgraded to cope with the inevitable swell of shoppers. Still, every time you’d drive past it was always impressive how well the Traffic Controllers did. No matter if it was walking an EWP three hundred metres down the road or chasing down a wayward pedestrian, they did a cracking job of segregating the general public from arguably dangerous construction work.
Many moons ago traffic control was a $20 lollipop from Mitre 10 attached to a bewildered construction worker giving confusing hand signals to equally confused motorists. No wonder the industry got overhauled. We can only imagine how many low speed accidents occurred this way.
What We Have Here, Is A Failure to Communicate
The reason vehicular traffic is so aggravating for the human psyche is because of the lack of communication and the lack of leadership. We have a couple of tools like indicators, brake lights, hand signals and if we have to – the horn. Other than that we’re all in the dark with no one in command. Introduce a little anarchy in the form of construction work and people flat out lose their minds. However, when you put someone in charge who gives clear, concise instructions then things go fairly smoothly. Just ask Cool Hand Luke.
Traffic, We Don’t Need Your Civil War
Traffic Control is an apt title because that’s literally what they do. All those crazed sheep running around get herded neatly and safely through the gate and out into the paddock beyond. But what does it take to become a qualified Traffic Controller and is it worth it? Switch your lollipop to Go and read on…
Ain’t That Fresh
The Traffic Control industry is a form of labour supply most often provided to the construction, film and event industries. Essentially wherever there’s vehicle interaction that needs to be managed. Those jobs may last a few hours or several years, can occur any time of the day or night and could be anywhere in the country. Traffic never sleeps – and unfortunately neither do Traffic Controllers. Due to the seasonal fluctuations in the work and the fact that most TC’s are registered with more than one Traffic Control provider, TC’s are almost always casually employed.
Look At The Shoes You’re Filling
The persona of a killer Traffic Controller is key. Part Buddhist, part alpha, part lateral thinker and all communicator, a good TC is a bit of an all-rounder.
- Zen. First up you need to be generally calm. Traffic can be impatient, pushy, immature and in some cases – flat out sociopathic. If you take things personally or you’re a bit hot-headed then this probably isn’t the job for you.
- Boss Dawg. One tiny human against hundreds of irrational vehicles means having an air of authority about you is a must. They need to know you’re in charge or they’ll push you around – literally.
- Intellectually flexible. Because construction sites are ever-changing, often your work area will need to adapt – you’ll need to keep up as well by thinking on your feet. The Traffic Management Plan you have at the beginning of the day may not be the same as the one at the end of the day.
- A hardy sole. As well as thinking on your feet you’ll need to stand on them. All day. And with the average shift going from 8-12 hours you might need to toughen up – its harder than it looks!
- Sign language. Almost every traffic control scenario requires signage. Some of these can be quite heavy or at minimum – awkward. So be sure you can lift up to 10kg from the back of a ute.
- ADHD minus the DHD. TC work calls on your ability to not be distracted despite long periods of inactivity. A lost attention span could end up very bad indeed.
- Comms up. This is probably the most important trait – great communication skills. You often need to communicate purely via hand signals, understand what your signals look like to motorists and know if that signal has been received & understood – all in the blink of an eye.
The Way They’ve Always Done Before
Becoming a Traffic Controller is fairly straightforward although it’s not a walk in the park. You will be controlling a messy herd of often irate driver’s after all!
- GSIC. You’ll need to begin with your General Safety Induction Card or White Card. This is a generic introduction to the construction industry proven by a white plastic card you will need to carry.
- Control Traffic With A Stop/Slow Bat or Portable Traffic Control Devices. Whew! As the title suggests, this is the course that allows you to do your thang. The training contains units on safe work procedures, communication and controlling traffic. A day of training plus a couple of hours of assessment and you’ll be a qualified TC raring to go!
- Implement Traffic Management Plans. This is the next step up the line and allows you to implement the TMP that has been designed for your site. The Stop/Slow Bat course is a prerequisite. This course contains additional units on setting up programmable TC devices, risk management and implementation of TMP’s. It takes an additional day of training and assessment. If you hold this you will be more responsible for any outcomes due to poor implementation of the TMP and therefore likely be senior to those only holding the TC ticket. It should also mean you’ll get paid more!
- Prepare Work Zone Traffic Management Plans. This is the Mack Daddy and allows you to design TMP’s. Naturally you have to hold the Stop/Slow Bat and Implement TMP’s qualifications first. This course runs for two full days and contains units on preparing TMP’s and additional risk assessment units not found in the previous courses.
Use Your Illusion
With all this training and needing to be a Zen/alpha/agile-minded communication superhuman you’re probably asking yourself if this is all worth it. Unfortunately, that’s a question only you can answer. If you like being outdoors, like seeing new parts of the city, are okay to get your hands dirty and can handle frustrated motorists then maybe Traffic Control is worth trying. You can always find a TC company and see if you can go out on the road for the day. If it doesn’t work out then that’s one more career off the list! If you do enjoy it then it can be very rewarding.
What’s so civil about traffic anyway.