Physical and verbal abuse of road workers must stop now, says Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport.
The Council is backing a petition to Parliament to make it a specific criminal offence to assault highway workers giving those working on the roads the same protection as emergency workers.
Tougher sentences can be handed out to those who assault emergency workers and campaigners hope to see the same for highway workers.
The petition is part of the Stamp it Out campaign, a Safer Highways industry-led initiative, involving the likes of Balfour Beatty, Tarmac and Amey – and including Somerset County Council’s maintenance contractor Skanska and one of its major project contractors Alun Griffiths.
Over the last year alone in Somerset there have been numerous incidents involving assaults, abuse being hurled at workers and dangerous driving – sometimes at workers.
In one example in June near Taunton, an angry driver approached a worker at a road closure and demanded to be allowed through – shouting and verbally abusing him when he explained the road was closed. The driver then pushed the worker out of the way, kicked the cones away and drove straight through. He went on to assault a BT worker at another closure further on.
One Skanska worker described how it feels to face this kind of incident while just doing your job.
“We’re working extremely hard to maintain the County’s roads and we feel this kind of threatening behaviour and abuse is becoming more frequent.
“We’d like motorists to be aware of the effect this can have on people’s mental health and wellbeing. We’ve all got families and loved ones we want to get home to at the end of our shift so please respect us and the job we do.”
Also in June, a motorist attempted to drive through a closure in Minehead and when he couldn’t, turned around and drove back through at speed – risking people’s lives.
“Somerset County Council absolutely supports the petition and we’d encourage as many people as possible to sign it. We will not accept our dedicated Highways teams, who are working hard to maintain our roads and protect the safety of highway users, having to experience this shocking violence and abuse,” said Cllr John Woodman, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport.
“This is abhorrent behaviour – it won’t be tolerated, and we’ll be doing everything in our power to make sure the full force of the law falls on perpetrators.”
Skanska’s Business Director Jez Stemp said: “It simply isn’t acceptable that anyone is abused, verbally or physically, or even threatened, simply for doing their job. Some of the actions that the team face have been extremely dangerous and pose a real threat to safety. No one should tolerate this. I fully support this campaign and praise Councillor Woodman in highlighting it. We must act together, now, to ensure something is done to kerb assaults and abuse of road workers.”
“Imagine if you faced this kind of attack while you’re just going about your job – it’s unimaginable to most people.
“Everyone in Somerset can help stamp out this unacceptable behaviour -please sign the petition here (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/548480) and make a difference.”
So far, the petition is just shy of 5,700 signatures.
At 10,000 signatures the government will respond to the petition – if it reaches 100,000 the petition will be considered for debate in Parliament.