Road worker abuse is thought to be on the increase according to the Highways Term Maintenance Association (HTMA).
Contractors are being urged to collate and report all incidents so that an accurate picture of the scale of the problem can be built. It’s believed to be a growing problem.
HTMA said that when it asked just 10 of the 23 companies that make up its membership about the problem, the results showed that there were 347 incidents of road worker abuse reported. Of those 341 abuse incidents, 267 were verbal in the form of swearing, shouting, hand gestures and face to face threatening but with no physical violence.
The others it said, involved more shocking assaults including shooting with guns and air rifles; throwing of items such as screwdrivers or fridges at workers; and kicking, punching or beating male and female operatives – in one case with baseball bats.
Recent reports of road worker abuse it has received have included incidents of people being chased with machetes, sprayed with ammonia, being driven at and even sexual assault.
“It can be men or women, from all walks of life that abuse road workers, be they passing through or living locally,” said HTMA project lead for its task and finish group on road worker abuse Pat Sheehan, who is also health and safety manager for transport infrastructure business Colas.
“It is easy to concentrate on the extreme stories of abuse but the reality is that is often people who are normally law abiding citizens who boil over when held up in traffic,”.
The organisation which represents the road maintenance sector said that, in 2007 an RAC Foundation survey found that 80% of road workers had been physically or verbally abused by motorists and 40% of workers were abused on either a daily or weekly basis. But it said that the perception was that things were getting worse.
“We need a lot more data from each of our individual companies,” said HTMA executive director Geoff Allister. “We believe that there is under reporting and for the public and police to see the scale and seriousness of the issue the data we are calling on our members to provide is essential.
“Equally the acceptance that ‘you are working on the roads and should expect abuse’ should not be the culture. It is vital that workers and companies report everything, including behaviour that they think goes with the territory – it doesn’t and it’s not part of the job.”
Road maintenance companies are introducing new technology to reduce the interface between workers and the public at road works and are equipping their sites and staff with CCTV cameras to provide evidence of abuse.
It said that client Highways England had stressed that there was no place for abusive behaviour against people doing their job.
“They should be respected for the work they do. And we expect our contractors to use the latest technology to make road workers safe and secure,” a spokesman said.