Language and attitudes once deemed innocuous now are quickly perceived as slights and insults.
The tenor of the times in this country is, in a word, extreme. America's social and political cultures are extremely polarized and the cultural divide carries over into the workplace—including construction work sites. The potential for violence is real.
Let me quickly add: The propensity for violence should not be overstated. Reasonableness holds sway at this point. While the chance for violent outbursts on the job is more than negligible, it still is pretty unlikely. Nonetheless, contractors and construction managers are best served by preparing for trouble.
Workplace clashes, after all, are so easily sparked. The line between harmony and hectoring, between innocent conversation and personal offense, has been foreshortened by the rise of “political correctness.” Language and attitudes once deemed innocuous now are quickly perceived as slights and insults.
HR executives and company managers lose sleep over this stuff. They know the best way to keep a workplace safe and productive is to train employees in appropriate personal behavior. Not every flashpoint can be anticipated, of course, but gratuitous comments, disrespectful conduct, and harassment are good places to begin. On the other hand, some situations are unforeseeable and just have to be handled swiftly and sensitively after the fact.
What makes the construction workplace so potentially dangerous is the equipment of the trade. Hammers. Nail guns. Drills. Rebar. Big yellow machines constructed of unforgiving iron. When wielded as weapons, any of these can grievously damage a body. A wheel loader operator brimming with resentment about a perceived insult is an impulse away from a workplace tragedy.
An atmosphere of strident political rhetoric and clamorous social demands affects us all. No workplace is immune. When personal and societal grievances are carried to work—sometimes as a volatile emotional compound—a thoughtless word or gesture can set them off. Every construction employee should resolve to be respectful of his co-workers… and do his job. In such an environment, the potential for violence disappears.