When placing concrete, nothing can test your patience more than the sound of a blaring horn—it’s worse than fingernails on a chalkboard. Regardless of whether you are working concrete in a union or non-union, residential or commercial company, you know well the frustration we all feel when a minivan pulls up behind a mixer truck, lays on the horn, rolls down a window, and shouts “Get out of the way!”
Concrete workers are typically first and last on a jobsite and often it is a necessary evil that we tie up traffic. And the equipment we run and the trucks that deliver our mud are loud. Is it any wonder that people complain?
You may have seen the viral video of the knife-wielding, hammer-swinging elderly Omaha, Neb., man who slashed the tires on a contractor’s pickup truck and then took out his frustration on a ready-mix truck. He’s seen smashing out its headlights as he unleashes his full wrath on the concrete crew, even to the point of walking through their wet concrete.
Since opening my concrete pumping business, I’ve become more aware of just how rude people are when the ready-mix truck blocks their thoroughfare. We can all agree that placing concrete will always be an inconvenience for traffic or nearby residents, so how do we respond to the people we’ve unintentionally angered, and what can we do better to reduce the tension?
The first step is to recognize that most people outside our trade don’t understand concrete delivery. They fail to remember that constructing their own driveway or home inconvenienced someone else—probably one of their neighbors. It’s not our job to educate the masses on how concrete is placed, but it is our responsibility to leave a better impression on them than we sometimes do.
Next, be more proactive. Learn your city ordinances and know the names and phone numbers of the city officials and police department members who can help redirect traffic or set up a temporary detour. Eliminating hostility and reducing tension when it comes to directing traffic seems like common sense, but ask your crew in the morning how many of them know who to call or what to ask for and you might be surprised by their lack of knowledge.
And don’t be afraid to apologize for the inconvenience. It’s not being weak. It takes strength and courage to say, “Sorry for the delay, please work with us for a moment.” Offer a quick answer or explain the brevity of the roadblock, and train your team on the importance of properly directing traffic.
Also, while it’s natural to put the guys on the bottom of the totem pole on traffic detail, maybe we should be a little more picky when we assign flagmen. Sure, the more experienced guys on the crew need to be placing the concrete, but balance this out with the fact that your flagmen are the ones who help you avoid traffic jams and altercations, let alone any potential collisions for which you could be held responsible.
Remember, how you deal with the public eventually affects your bottom line, and your responses always get back to a project manager, general contractor, or customer. Your reputation is more valuable than enjoying a sarcastic jab at an angry commuter. So we need to temper our own responses, because in these situations, we don’t just represent our own companies, we represent the entire concrete industry. Since you might be the only concrete worker that an upset driver ever talks to directly, you owe it to the rest of the industry to be polite.