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Two out of three trunk roadworkers in Scotland verbally abused by passing motorists

By Val Sweeney

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A new survey has revealed the impact of physical and verbal abuse on roadworkers.
A new survey has revealed the impact of physical and verbal abuse on roadworkers.

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.

Trunk roads in the Highlands include the A9, the A82 and the A96.

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

The findings revealed:

One in four of staff surveyed said the abuse they have experienced at work has affected their mental health.

Nearly two out of three roadworkers have been verbally abused by passing motorists.

Almost one in ten staff said they have been subject to physical abuse in the past year.

One in five reported having missiles thrown at them in the past year.

John Willox, a Bear Scotland operative, described 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 abuse of roadworkers was completely unacceptable and the results of the surveyed showed just how big a problem it was.

"No one deserves to face this kind of behaviour while doing their job," he said.

"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, a director at Amey and vice chairman 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."

Related story: Watch: Snow plough battles drifts on trunk road

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