Comment – The Expendables

Another site death to heap shame upon and industry that refuses to change.

I was alerted to the latest death of a demolition worker by a post on Twitter from former Institute of Demolition Engineers’ president John Woodward who, in typically prosaic manner, said, simply: World demolition industry – This has to stop.

He is right of course; site deaths do need to stop. But the longer the industry continues to maim and kill its workers, the more I wonder if there is actually a will to change.

I occasionally report upon companies that have seized the nettle and invested in additional health and safety training or that have pursued a behavioural safety policy. But I report on them because they’re newsworthy; unusual; unique. If everyone was training to that degree, there would be no need to report on it. That alone suggests that while a few are willing to go that extra mile to protect their workers, the vast majority remain content to wing it and hope for the best.

Sounds cynical, right? Maybe. But here’s another factor to consider.

Have you ever noticed that migrant workers seem to feature in accident reports rather more than statistics suggest they should? In the US, an unusually high number of site deaths and accidents seem to feature a victim with a Hispanic name. Here in the UK, there seems to be a preponderance of accidents and fatalities involving workers from the former Eastern Europe even though population statistics suggest that they make up on a tiny fraction of the nation’s workforce.

Now some might suggest that a failure to understand or fully grasp safety instructions in something other than their native language is a contributory factor. This is an all-too-convenient cover-all explanation that lays the blame for any such accident firmly at the door of the foreign worker that can’t speak English. But that fails to address the real crux of the problem.

Why are seemingly reputable demolition companies employing people with whom they can hardly communicate? Is it to widen their own grasp of the Romanian or Spanish language? Is it to bring some cultural diversity to their workforce? Is it to make the World Cup sweep stake that bit more interesting? No. They are employing migrant workers because they will generally endure working conditions that would have American and British workers heading for the site exit or a tribunal; they are employing migrant workers because they are cheap. And by cheap, of course, I mean expendable.

John Woodward was totally right when he called for the global demolition industry to prevent further site deaths. But, as the saying goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. The problem the industry faces right now is that far too few are demonstrating that they have the will.