‘A driver threatened to chop off my head with a hand saw’ - council road worker tells of abuse in Birmingham

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Birmingham City Council road workers have revealed the abuse they face as the work on street repairs and build new routes

A road worker for Birmingham City Council has told how a driver threatened to cut off his head with an electric hand saw because he couldn’t access a highway undergoing repair.

Kieran, who works as a highways contracts coordinator all over Birmingham, said he was left shaken by the violent threat made as he went about his job. He said the man got out of his van and approached him with a knife which he said he pointed in Kieran’s head.

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It’s just one of hundreds of incidents that road workers are dealing with everyday. The council has released new figures that show  465 incidents of road worker abuse have been reported in Birmingham over the last three years.

This has led organisations and companies that work to improve Birmingham’s roads to launch a campaign to urge the public to respect its road workers called Expect Respect.

Kieran said: “We had one guy who was getting aggressive at the closure. He got out of his van and approached me with that looked like an electric hand-saw.

“He shouted, ‘if you don’t open the road I’m going to chop your head off’, and he came right up to my face and put the blade to my head. You don’t expect to come to work and have to deal with that kind of  thing. It shook me up.

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Kieran believes if the general public understood why roads needed to be closed, they would be more understanding. “A lot of the time, the public think we’ve just decided ourselves to close the road there and then and we haven’t. We are there to set up the site before works start. A road closure is as much about safety for the road user as well as the road worker, so to be getting abuse for that is disgusting.”

Other road workers in Birmingham have been threatened with weapons, such as machetes, crossbows and dogs. Another worker was shot at with a pellet gun, while another regularly receives homophobic abuse.

A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council said: “Road workers are there to do a critical job to improve the roads and environment for communities living in the city, and every single person deserves to go home to their families safe and well at the end of each shift.”

Birmingham road worker Kieran tells of abuse at workBirmingham road worker Kieran tells of abuse at work
Birmingham road worker Kieran tells of abuse at work | Birmingham City Council

Expect Respect has been launched by the Integrated Programme Alliance (IPA), which delivers vital network improvement works across the city and was established by Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Highways Ltd, together with Kier, Arcadis, Tarmac, Highway Traffic Management (HTM) and WJ Group.

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Birmingham Highways Ltd (BHL) manages and maintains the roads in the city. To support road workers and to provide the police with better evidence, BHL has invested in CCTV towers, body cameras and warning systems to alert workers when people or vehicles enter a live work site.

Dave Pugh, Technical Director at Birmingham Highways Limited, added: “Over 800 people across our IPA teams are working hard to improve the standards of the roads in Birmingham, and they deserve our respect. The work they do is vital to the safety and efficiency of our roads, and we hope that the proud people of Birmingham will support our workers and call out any incidences of abuse or assault to collectively help stamp out this shocking behaviour.”

Kier Highways site supervisor, Paul, said: “The people I work with are not confrontational. They are good people, there to do a job that they have been instructed to do. Yet they have been threatened with machetes, shot at, driven at, had things thrown at them.

“And what for? Just because somebody wants to drive down the road that must be closed for safety reasons? Road workers are there to do a job and earn a living. We should respect that and afford the people in these jobs the right to earn that living.”

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Expect Respect is also supported by Councillor Liz Clements, cabinet member for transport at Birmingham City Council. Cllr Clements said: “Everyone working on our highways network is doing an important job – and all of their tasks are carried out for the people of our city and those using our roads.

“That is why it is totally unacceptable that they are subject to any form of abuse. Some of the incidents that have been reported are shocking and horrific, which is exactly why I back this campaign.”

But what if I have concerns about a road worker?

Birmingham City Council explained that road workers on the contract receive regular training on public interactions and how to keep these positive, as well as incident reporting training and these messages are being reinforced throughout the campaign. They added that should a resident wish to raise an incident about a road worker and their conduct, they should do so via the website.

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