Comment – Surely work is hard enough…?

Site supervisors requesting a replacement operator because the young person just starting out on site (and in their career) is a little bit slow and ponderous. Site workers who leave sex toys in the cab of a female machine operator for laughs and banter. Company bosses that insist that training is done outside work hours. Employment structures that make workers afraid to report accidents or safety issues to avoid being labelled a trouble-maker.

The combined demolition and construction industry has come a long way. But it still has a long way to go on its journey towards true professionalism. And for now, the sector still retains a pernicious toxicity that can make it a deeply unpleasant place in which to work; and a deeply unattractive option for those considering a future career.

And all of those issues I listed above can be filed under a single word; a single word that belongs in the playground when we’re all still too young to know any better. Bullying.

Thanks to charities such as Mates in Mind and to mental health awareness initiatives by the likes of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors, we are all aware that suicide claims the lives of more than two men per working day here in the UK. We also know that stress and suicide are intrinsically linked. And yet, even as we’re trumpeting our support for mental health awareness, we are clinging on to working practices and archaic systems that actually impact the mental health of those working in the industry.

In demolition, we should content ourselves with tearing down structures, and be less intent upon tearing down people.

Imagine you’re that young operator. You just got your operator’s card and this is your first job. And you have to go home alone or to a young wife and even younger child to tell them you were replaced for being too slow.

Imagine you’re that female digger driver arriving for work to find a dildo affixed to your machine’s wind-screen for the 20th day in a row and knowing that one of your colleagues is responsible and on a personal mission to make your life difficult.

Perhaps better still, imagine you’re the parent of one of these two individuals. Your son or your daughter is just trying to earn a living but an individual, a company or an entire working practice is making their life miserable.

Work is plenty tough enough, particularly in the demolition and construction sector. The work is hard, the hours are long and gratitude is a rare and precious commodity. No-one needs that work made harder because they’re young, female, of a different colour or creed or if they’re in a same-sex relationship. How utterly ridiculous that going to work as the person you were born to be now requires a degree of bravery?

This time last year, the UK public gathered as one on the nation’s doorsteps to applaud and cheer the workers of the National Health Service that were battling against the COVID-19 crisis. As a society, we demonstrated our humanity and our empathy.

Fast forward 12 months, and all of that empathy has been eroded. And in its place there is spite. Humanity has given way to an “every man for himself” attitude. If someone falls, we no longer help them up; we use them as a stepping-stone to get ahead ourselves.

We are entering the season of good will to all men. How about we all try to embrace that notion and not just for Christmas. Maybe then, our industry might just become a nicer place in which to work; and a little more attractive to those considering their future careers.

In demolition, we should content ourselves with tearing down structures, and be less intent upon tearing down people.