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In just a few short weeks, we have seen the collapse of yet another UK demolition company; we have seen one man killed, another seriously injured, and another scared half to death in an unplanned roof collapse; suicidal bidding and price undercutting is rife; and the term “healthy competition” is used as a catch-all for a variety of dirty tricks and smear campaigns.
Albert Einstein once defined lunacy as doing the same thing over and over again an expecting a different outcome. By that definition, much of the demolition industry would have been issued with a one-way ticket to the asylum by now.
For far too long, the industry has based growth on excessive borrowing in the hope that well-paid work would arrive before the receivers. For far too long, the industry has taken educational under-achievers and attempted to mould them into intelligent, forward-thinking and safety savvy individuals. For far too long, the industry has accepted a rainbow-coloured array of qualification cards as a panacea to all health and safety concerns.
Any sector that has devised an entry-level qualification that is geared to ensure an optimum pass rate even among the semi and fully illiterate needs to take a long, hard look at itself. While the industry retains its “rough, tough” reputation, its lower echelons will continue to attract those not smart enough for a job in any other sector.
Of course, the industry’s current predicament is not entirely of its own making. While clients let work based on price first, price second, price third and ability to do the job safely and efficiently a distant fourth, undercutting will continue.
But to seek to blame others for our own shortcomings is an act of ignorant and wilful denial.
Buying equipment and hiring staff you can’t afford is gross short-termism that is doomed to failure. Thinking that a touch screen test and a plastic card is appropriate preparation for life in demolition is naïve. And rolling out the same, predictable platitudes – “our thoughts are with the family” or “an investigation is underway” in the immediate aftermath of an accident is now such a cliché that it is like pouring so much salt into an open and festering wound.
As an industry, demolition has much to recommend it. There is a camaraderie rarely seen outside the armed services; there is an unquenchable entrepreneurial spirit; there is a genuine and deep-felt commitment to the environment; and there is the value in knowing that demolition makes progress possible.
But for all those positives, the industry continues to send companies to the receivers; and send workers to the morgue.
The industry is set to gather several times in the coming months to “share best practice” and to pat itself on the back for another set of jobs well done. And, unquestionably, there have been some notable achievements in the past 12 months.
But against the current industry background, those trophies seem about as appropriate as awarding a posthumous medal to the captain of the Titanic for his lifeboat deployment skills.