Tackling Roadworker Abuse

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One in four roadworkers has suffered mental health issues following verbal or physical abuse from the public, according to new figures.

A survey of Scotland’s trunk road maintenance companies, including Amey, BEAR Connect and Autolink, is outlining some of the challenges faced by staff while doing their jobs.

The results of the survey come at the start of a week-long drive to highlight the issue. The findings revealed that:

  • One in four of staff surveyed said that the abuse they have experienced at work has affected their mental health.
  • Almost one in ten staff said they've been subject to physical abuse in the past year.
  • One in five reported having missiles thrown at them in the past year.
  • Nearly two out of three roadworkers have been verbally abused by passing motorists.

John Willox, a BEAR Scotland operative, explains the impact of a recent incident:

“I was operating a Stop/Go board at a work site. A car pulled up, the driver got out and verbally abused me aggressively. Eventually he got back into his car and then tried to drive around me. He mounted the verge, knocked over the Stop/Go board and actually clipped the side of my body to get past.

“He continued to shout abuse at other members of the team and drove dangerously through the live works area, speeding off before the police arrived. It was lucky no-one was seriously injured. Why do people think they can act like that and put others at risk?”.

The trunk road maintenance companies, with the support of Transport Scotland, are committed to taking a zero tolerance approach in response to any further threats to their employees.

Minster for Transport Graeme Dey said:

“The abuse of our roadworkers is completely unacceptable and the results of the survey show just how big a problem it is. No one deserves to face this kind of behaviour while doing their job.

“I find it particularly upsetting to hear of the impact these incidents have on the mental health of staff, many of whom were carrying out essential maintenance of our trunk road network during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Scottish Government fully supports the efforts to raise awareness of these incidents and the call for action to tackle roadworker abuse. I would also like to thank front line staff for their continued hard work and dedication during the pandemic.”

Joe Docherty, HSEQ Director for Transport Infrastructure at Amey and Vice Chair of Safer Highways, said:  

“We have spent the last few years seeking to educate the public about the human cost of abusing roadworkers, yet too many members of the public still seem to consider this a victimless crime. This survey demonstrates that more robust measures are required if we are to protect our workforce.

“In future, we will be gathering more evidence of abuse, including the use of road cameras and body cams, and ensuring those responsible are prosecuted to the extent of the law. 

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s support and hope that helps to bring about a positive change in behaviour towards roadworkers.”

Iain Murray, BEAR Scotland managing director, said:

“It is totally unacceptable to expect regular verbal abuse that in the past has seeped over into physical abuse in your daily working life. It is not surprising that this survey reveals the wider impact of this on the mental wellbeing of our operatives – whether through being on the receiving end of an irate driver’s ire or the impact of repeated negativity from road users.

“The only way to address this is with a zero-tolerance approach. We are continuing to invest in vehicle and body cams which will ensure this behaviour is captured and footage can be used in prosecutions against offenders.”

Tackling Roadworker Abuse - video transcript

Transport Minister Graeme Dey:

The abuse of our roadworkers highlighted in this survey is completely unacceptable.

No one should be going to their employment and suffering with that kind of situation.

I was already aware of the problem. I had witnessed it myself whilst on a site visit on the M8 and I spoke to other roadworkers who talked about being spat upon as they went about their daily lives.

That is not acceptable on any level and especially so when we are talking about people who are working very hard to keep this country moving during a pandemic.

So, my plea to everyone is to think about these kinds of behaviours and get behind our roadworkers.

Duncan Crilley, BEAR Scotland:

I have had a bottle of urine thrown at me, I have had bits of fruit thrown at me, people hanging out of cars shouting and swearing.

Same goes for being out on sites, I have seen the guys getting abused verbally and people hanging out their windows.

Thomas Irvine, Amey:

I got hit once with a car battery in the back when I was putting out a closure and that put me out for about four to five weeks.

That made me really think because I ended up with two broken ribs with that.

Ronnie Whyte, BEAR Scotland:

Nobody goes to their work in the morning wanting to be abused so it brings your mood down. You think you're there just to do your job. It is not a great feeling.

Duncan Crilley, BEAR Scotland:

I wouldn't go into a bank; I wouldn't go into a supermarket and shout and ball at anybody else so why should us boys out on the road have to deal with that daily.

Published 11 Jul 2021 Tags