Tower climbing can be tough enough to deal with just from a physical aspect, but combine that with mental and emotional stress and the job can, at times, be overwhelming, according to Kathy Gill, owner of Tower Safety & instruction. Crews, usually known for their camaraderie, can also turn into intimidating clans with new members.
The severity of intimidation in construction was recently brought to her attention during a training session in Texas. The towerhand has been in the industry for eight years and wanted to share his experience and quickly found out others had seen the same behavior. Gill said the tech, upon introducing himself at the job site was put under pressure to perform unsafe acts on the job.
“My student sent me a photo of him when he first started,” Gill said, “and had to promise to never show his face, but bring awareness to something he has not forgotten. He was ‘bullied’ into taking his harness off while on the tower because the rest of the crew had removed their PPE.” Gill said he refused and that’s when the name calling began. Finally, she said, he gave into the peer pressure. She said she’s heard many similar stories and others that have accepted intimidation as normal behavior and coercing a coworker into something that may cause harm to oneself.
Gill said the intimidation factor can even follow a tower climber home, causing deeper anxiety and even depression. She cited statistics from the construction industry that touch on the same dynamics found in the tower industry and their saddest result, suicide. One study* on intimidation showed that 18 percent of bully-victims, 13 percent of bullies, and 10 percent of victims experienced depression. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. the construction and extraction industries have the second-highest rate of suicide: 53.3 per 100,000 workers.
“In construction, and tower construction is no exception,” Gill said, “employees have too much or too little work to do. Along with deadlines, physical demands of the job, extreme working conditions, lack of management support, unclear communication and engineering already approved construction drawings, it can get to be too much.”
Gill said German psychologist Kurt Lewin, wrote that behavior is a function of the interaction between the individual and his or her environment. “Addressing the behavior starts with the interaction between all of us and the environment,” she said.
* (Kumpulainen, Rasanen, & Puura, 2001)
By Jim Fryer, Inside Towers Managing Editor