Comment – Demolition Apartheid…

Surely the time has come to end the minority rule of the industry.

Comment IllustrationLet us start with a very quick maths lesson. Estimates suggest that the post-recession UK demolition industry employs somewhere in the order of 10,000 people across around 550 individual companies.

The Institute of Demolition Engineers has around 400 members while around 160 company owners and managing directors have paid their dues and mastered the secret handshake that allows them to claim membership of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors.

Being generous and allowing for fluctuations caused by recent company failures and post-recessionary resurgence, that means the two biggest (only) trade associations serving the UK demolition industry actually represents approximately five percent of the people that actually work within it. Or, to put it another way, there is around 95 percent of the industry – project managers, contracts managers, site managers, Topmen, health and safety officers, machine operators and operatives – that have none of the information-sharing, best-practice-encouraging, education-espousing and general socialising benefits that the IDE and NFDC claim to provide.

Those associations will, of course, claim that such benefits “trickle down” and percolate their way through members’ businesses. Based on our experience with the Demolition magazine, however, that is simply not the case. If you want an operative to read a magazine – and for magazine read best practice documentation, training and legislation updates etc – you don’t send it to the managing director or the managing director’s PA and hope for the best.

Association members, who pay handsomely for the privilege, will tell you that they are the ones taking the day-to-day financial risks and are, therefore, entitled to regular lunches in oak-panelled rooms with their be-suited peers.

Yet it is the unrepresented masses of the industry – the ones with the mud on their boots and the dirt under their fingernails – that risk their lives and wellbeing each and every day. Think about it – when was the last time you read about a demolition accident or fatality involving a company director?

It is the men (and women) on site that live and breathe the challenges and potential hazards that remain part and parcel of the industry. It is they that must constantly adapt to new rules and regulations set in place without their input, consent or agreement. It is they that are required to implement whatever constitutes best practice this week. Surely they should have at least some say in the way this industry is run?

I am not proposing a worker’s revolution: those be-suited directors could all-too-easily quash any such plebeian uprising; elitism aside, trade associations have their place; and besides, since shaving off my beard, my Che Guevara aspirations have largely vanished along with the face-fuzz.

But for all the meetings, initiatives, guidance, seminars, exhibitions and conferences, the UK demolition business continues to send workers to the hospital (or, most recently, the morgue) on an all-too-regular basis. Would an alliance of workers – with all their hands-on experience – honestly make things any worse?

Maybe, maybe not.

But a situation in which around five percent of the business sets the agenda for the other 95 percent is nothing short of industry apartheid.