Western Australian traffic controller Frank Allen still remembers the moment he lifted his ‘SLOW’ sign — a normal, everyday act that was all just part of his duties — while on the job in Perth’s north earlier this year.
Little did the 63-year-old know, the move would trigger a life-changing series of events that would leave him with PTSD, causing him to lose his job and endanger his marriage.
He alleges that lifting that sign led to him being brutally bashed by an enraged motorist, before being coldly cut adrift by his employer when he needed their support the most.
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Allen was following a large truck delivering power poles in Landsdale, in Perth’s north, while he was employed by Advanced Traffic Management (ATM) and, as part of his duties, was controlling traffic around the truck as it stopped and started on March 29.
As it stopped to offload on Alexander Dr, Allen shut off the left-hand lane, set up a visual message board telling motorists to merge to the right, and stood by with a physical slow sign “in case of an emergency”.
“I was watching the traffic come towards me, and I noticed there was a motorbike in what we call the fast lane, and a (Ford Ranger SUV) ute in the slow lane. All of a sudden, the ute started to blow black smoke out the back,” he told 7NEWS.com.au.
“This guy has floored it to get in front of the motorbike.”
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Allen held out his slow sign a little further in an attempt to reduce the motorist’s speed, but it had the opposite effect. “He aimed the car at me,” Allen said.
The motorist swerved at the last second, and missed Allen, but hit the sign he was holding and kept going.
Far from Allen’s first experience with an aggressive motorist, he told 7NEWS.com.au: “I thought: ‘Oh, another idiot on the road’. Water off a duck’s back.”
But five minutes later, an attempt to warn Allen went unheard. The truck driver, who had witnessed the rage-fuelled encounter, now saw the driver of the Ford Ranger angrily storming towards Allen.
“The driver of the truck was saying something on the radio, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying because it was distorted on the radio,” Allen said.
“Then I turned around and there’s this bloke standing behind me.
“Next minute, I’m on the ground.”
Allen can’t remember most of the attack, which left him bleeding on the road, but said he does remember his attacker allegedly pulling out a box cutter.
“At one point I noticed he had a box knife, you know like a Stanley knife, in his hand and he was threatening: I’m going to kill you, I’m going to cut you, you old ****.”
“He’s screaming and yelling, I’ve got blood running down my face.”
Allen said he smacked the man with his sign, and after a few minutes, the truck driver managed to persuade the man to leave before calling Allen an ambulance.
‘It really messed me up’
The 34-year-old Parkwood man would later be charged by Wanneroo Police with common assault in circumstances of aggravation or racial aggravation and being armed in a way that may cause fear, WA Police told 7NEWS.com.au.
“At the time, I thought, just another day on the job for a traffic controller. We cop a lot of abuse and threats,” Allen said.
But Allen’s voice shook as he told 7NEWS.com.au: “It messed me up, it really messed me up.”
Allen said he was familiar with this dark side of the industry, but he was still unprepared for what was about to happen next.
He tried to head back to work the next day, but, “The brain said to the body: ‘We’re not working well together today’. I broke down, and two of the other guys had to help me out of the ute’.”
“Then I had a week without pay — they didn’t want to put it on compo.”
This was just part of a larger issue with the industry, Allen said.
“The (traffic controllers) all talk about it, the companies ignore it,” he said,
“They go through the motions … but trying to get help from the companies is an absolute nightmare.”
Frank Allen, 63, was left with PTSD after he was allegedly attacked on the job by an angry motorist, something he said traffic controllers are familiar with. Credit: Getty Images/Supplied
It’s not the first time Allen says he has trouble seeking help after at incident on the job at ATM.
“A few years ago, I got hit by a car and the boss asked me: ‘Do you want counselling?’ And I said yes. They said: ‘Well, this is gonna take a while to organise.’ And they never organised it.”
7NEWS.com.au has contacted the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) for comment.
Once on workers’ compensation, Allen hoped he would just need a few more days at home, but it was four months until he was signed off as “fit for work”.
Even then, Allen would realise just how quickly his PTSD symptoms could re-emerge.
Issues that Allen shared with his HR department, about the lack of support he received from the company following the incident, were escalated.
“(The HR worker’s) gone and told the general manager, and he comes out and calls me into his office and starts having a go at me,” Allen said.
Allen had reached the end of the “short fuse” which is so common with sufferers of PTSD and those emotionally stuck within moments of trauma.
“I told him to stick it where the sun don’t shine,” he said.
Allen lost his job, and was forced to take a pay cut in order to find new work in traffic control at a different company.
ATM went into liquidation about a week later, owing more than $10 million, and sacking 400 workers with a text message, effective immediately.
Grant Thorton liquidators David Hodgson and Andrew Hewitt were appointed by The Federal Court of Australia to liquidate ATM on August 22. A spokesperson for Grant Thorton told 7NEWS.com.au: “The liquidators are unable to comment on any staff interactions at the company prior to this appointment date.”
‘A nightmare of a time in life’
“This event, I do feel, has changed me,” Allen said.
“I get frustrated very easily because I’m afraid that if I get into an argument or anything, that it’s going to escalate very quickly. The one thing I was scared of was someone getting in my face. What’s my reaction going to be?
“I feel nervous, I don’t want to be around people. For the first few weeks, I couldn’t even go to the shops with my wife,” he said.
“It’s in decision-making and things like that — you just don’t know what to do next … I’m not as sure about myself anymore, I’m double-guessing everything, and when I’m out on the road, I don’t feel safe anymore.
“It’s put pressure on my marriage … it’s affected our relationship because (my wife) feels frustrated with me at times.
“It’s been an absolute drama and a nightmare of a time in life.”
Allen went back to work nearly a month ago, but is still waiting for justice, and said the Parkwood man has faced court four times over the matter already without ever entering a plea.
The Parkwood man is next due to appear in Joondalup Magistrates Court on Monday, September 18, WA Police said.
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