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Abuse against workers ‘cannot go on’

by Mark Rowe

Abuse towards road workers is unacceptable, says a county council. Staffordshire County Council, with its highways contractor Amey, report that last year in the county there were 764 reported incidents involving abuse of workers. Such as; drivers entered roadwork safety zones through cones, threw objects, spat at or verbally abused highways operatives.

In one, gully operatives were cleaning drainage gullies. With the tanker stationary, while the men worked to clear the gully, the driver of the vehicle behind, pressed his car horn continuously. After one of the workers signalled to the driver that the works would only take a minute, the driver got out of the car and approached him, becoming abusive and threatening, which resulted in the operative being shoved and his mobile phone dropping to the ground while he attempted to call the police.

Richard Harris, Amey Account Director for Staffordshire, said: “Abuse towards our highways operatives is experienced unfortunately by many, who wrongly now accept it as an occupational hazard. Many of the instances that have been reported are caused by drivers who are frustrated or angry by delayed roadworks who go on to spit at, verbally abuse and deliberately breach traffic management safety zones, putting the lives of our operatives at risk.

“We appreciate that there are frustrations when people’s journeys are impacted by road works, but it is not acceptable that our workers are abused for doing their job. With the support of Staffordshire County Council, we are hoping to raise the awareness of these issues and promote the Stamp it Out campaign, whilst also encouraging members of the public that encounter our workforce to treat them with respect.”

Stamp it Out’ is a national campaign against abuse of highways workers, launched by charity Safer Highways last year. The campaign is asking people to sign a petition to change the law to give road workers and those working on the front line greater protection against violence and abuse. Visit

Meanwhile, retailers wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, asking for a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening, or abusing a retail worker. Their letter pointed to a problem before the pandemic, when retail staff were challenging customers for ID when purchasing age restricted items or encountering shoplifters. Nearly a year on, the covid-19 pandemic – essential retailers open during lockdowns having to enforce face mask and social distancing restrictions – has caused a dramatic spike in incidents, they said.

Paddy Lillis, General Secretary of the trade union Usdaw, was among those who signed. He said: “When retail CEOs, leading retail bodies and the shop workers’ trade union jointly call for action, it is time for the Government to listen. Retail workers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be just a part of the job.

“Our latest survey results lay bare the scale of the appalling violence, threats and abuse faced by shop workers and demonstrate the need for a protection of shop workers law. It has been a terrible year for our members, with almost 90pc of shop workers suffering abuse, two-thirds threatened and nearly one in ten assaulted.

“The Government responded to our petition with little more than sympathy, objected to the Alex Norris ‘protection of shop workers’ bill and only this week again denied the need for a change in the law.

“Last month we had a great result for our members in Scotland, as MSPs voted through ground-breaking legislation to give shop workers the protection of the law that they deserve. So we are now looking for the UK Government to support key workers across the retail sector and give them the protection they deserve.”

The letter was also signed by the British Retail Consortium Chief Executive Helen Dickinson. She said: “The BRC has repeatedly called on the Government to take action and protect our colleagues from harm. Every day over 400 retail staff are attacked, threatened, or abused in their place of work. Over 150,000 in 2019, and these numbers have been rising during the pandemic. Those attacked are our friends, our family, our colleagues. This cannot go on.”

As for the police, a recent Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) survey found that almost one in three (32 per cent) officers reported a member of the public who was believed to carry the virus had purposely threatened to breathe or cough on them, while nearly a quarter (24 per cent) said someone had actually done so.

John Apter, National Chair of the Federation, called it a sad indictment of society. He said: “As well as having an incredibly challenging and demanding job and all the pressures that go with it, police officers are also human beings who are looking after kids, poorly relatives, and have the same stresses as everyone else. This survey shows the harsh reality of policing during a period when police officers have simply done the best they could to help and protect the public.”

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