Road workers reveal mental health impact of abuse from public

Almost one in 10 staff said they have been subjected to physical abuse in the past year.

Road workers reveal mental health impact of abuse from public iStock

A quarter of road workers have suffered mental health issues following verbal or physical abuse from the public while they work, new research has found.

Almost one in 10 staff said they have been subjected to physical abuse in the past year, while one in five reported having missiles thrown at them.

The survey of Scotland’s trunk road maintenance companies, including Amey, Bear Connect and Autolink, found one in four respondents said the abuse they have experienced at work has affected their mental health.

The figures were released at the start of a week-long drive to highlight behaviour the transport minister deemed “completely unacceptable”.

Road maintenance companies have pledged to take a zero-tolerance approach to the issue and say they will use body-worn cameras in future to help gather evidence.

John Willox, a Bear Scotland worker, told how he was clipped by a car during a recent incident.

He said: “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?”

Transport minister Graeme Dey said the Scottish Government fully supports efforts to raise awareness of such incidents and the call for action to tackle road worker abuse.

He said: “The abuse of our road workers 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 survey of around 350 frontline workers was carried out during April and May this year.

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.”

Joe Docherty, of Amey and Safer Highways, welcomed the support from the Scottish Government.

He said: “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.”

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