The Highways Term Maintenance Association (HTMA) has called on the highways sector to collate and report all incidents of road worker abuse.
This, the group says, is the only way to reveal the true scale of what is believed to be a growing problem.
The organisation has put out the call for the information so industry, public and the police can be alerted to the issue and action taken to reverse the trend.
HTMA’s latest figures show that there were 347 incidents of road worker abuse reported when just 10 of the 23 companies which belong to the association were asked. Of those 341 abuse incidents, 267 were verbal in the form of swearing, shouting, hand gestures and face to face threatening but with no physical violence.
The others involved more shocking assaults including shooting with guns and air rifles; throwing of items such as screwdrivers or fridges at workers; and kicking, punching or beating male and female operatives – in one case with baseball bats.
HTMA is the leading organisation representing the road maintenance sector.
Recent reports of road worker abuse it has received have included incidents of people being chased with machetes, sprayed with ammonia, being driven at and even sexual assault.
“It can be men or women, from all walks of life, that abuse road workers be they passing through or living locally,” said HTMA’s project lead for its task and finish group on road worker abuse Pat Sheehan, who is also health and safety manager for transport infrastructure business Colas.
“It is easy to concentrate on the extreme stories of abuse but the reality is that is often people who are normally law abiding citizens who boil over when held up in traffic,” he added.
In 2007 an RAC Foundation survey found that 80% of road workers had been physically or verbally abused by motorists and 40% of workers were abused on either a daily or weekly basis. But the perception is that things are getting worse.
HTMA executive director Geoff Allister commented: “We need a lot more data from each of our individual companies. We believe that there is under reporting and for the public and police to see the scale and seriousness of the issue the data we are calling on our members to provide is essential.
“Equally the acceptance that ‘you are working on the roads and should expect abuse’ should not be the culture. It is vital that workers and companies report everything, including behaviour that they think goes with the territory – it doesn’t and it’s not part of the job.”
Road maintenance companies are introducing new technology to reduce the interface between workers and the public at road works and are equipping their sites and staff with CCTV cameras to provide evidence of abuse.
Leading client Highways England stressed that there is no place for abusive behaviour against people doing their job.
“They should be respected for the work they do. And we expect our contractors to use the latest technology to make road workers safe and secure,” a spokesman said.