It’s a common response that we’ve all had – approaching road works and the frustration builds. But is that an appropriate reason to subject the road worker controlling traffic to verbal or physical abuse?
While many of us would thankfully say ‘no’, unfortunately it is an all-too common occurrence for road workers in Australia, with workers regularly subjected to verbal abuse and having objects, such as eggs or even bottles of urine, thrown at them – just for doing their job.
This kind of abuse does not happen elsewhere, though. If the same impatience and anger led to other occupations being treated like this – think anything from bank teller and office worker to stockbroker or food delivery – reporting and consequences for the perpetrator would likely follow. Because all workers deserve, and indeed have a legal right, to a safe workplace.
So why does it happen?
Like many inappropriate behaviours, it’s often born out of ignorance. In this case, a lack of understanding that it is actually a high-skilled high-pressure role, where the safety of road users and your co-workers rests in your hands.
And lack of understanding that road workers, contrary to some motorists’ perception, are actually making their lives easier by allowing new roads to be built, potholes to be repaired, and services to be restored.
“A lot of people think road workers are just standing there with a ‘lollipop’ or a stop sign, they’re not really earning the taxpayers’ money, where in reality it requires a lot of coordination and skill,” says Dr Natalie Flatt, a psychologist who will share her research into road worker abuse as part of an NRSPP webinar in May.
“We live in a fast-paced society and individuals and families want to get from A to B as fast as they can. What many people don’t understand or fail to see is the road worker is helping them do that. Without road workers, and without being able to prevent or fix a pothole, we would have many more crashes each year.”
The webinar is part of NRSPP’s annual organisational campaign, which in 2023 is aimed at increasing understanding of and empathy for the important role of road workers. Natalie will share some strategies on what road workers and their organisations can do to prevent and minimise the impact of road worker abuse.
“We’re seeing a lot of trauma being reported by road workers, who are copping unnecessary blame,” Natalie explains, “and that’s causing them a lot of anxiety about going to work and about doing the job they need to do.
“Now, if their mind isn’t switched on to the job because they’re concerned about what drivers are going to do to them that day, then they’re more likely to make mistakes.
“Where we start to see anxiety, depression or trauma, we often see people isolating. So you have workers coming to work who are just trying to get through the day and manage their anxiety and they won’t talk about it.
“That’s where angst and symptoms build up to the point where either they leave the job or something more sinister can start to simmer.”