Comment – A Demolition Disgrace

A US demolition company sent a worker on a suicide mission yesterday.

Pell StackClearly smarting from the botched explosive demolition of a fire-damaged and unstable chimney stack caused, according to local news reports by “the walls being thicker than expected”, the company set in motion a hastily-arranged and ill-advised contingency plan to get the stack down as quickly as possible.

If a risk assessment WAS carried out, it can have lasted only long enough for the contractor, client and stakeholders to utter the words “stand well back”. Unfortunately, those words did not apply to the man tasked with felling the unstable and unpredictable stack.

The company in question put an operator in an undersized machine that was not designed for demolition and which did not even have the correct attachment. They asked him to put his life on the line to bring to a halt the growing PR disaster that was happening all around them.

The likely outcome of this hasty and ill-advised action was clear for all to see. I showed the video to my wife – who has never set foot on a demolition site – and she said “Oh Christ, no” roughly five seconds before the stack began to crumble.

The drone footage shows how the chimney falls across the roof of the excavator’s cab, crushing the engine compartment, and causing the operator’s colleagues to rush to his aid.
Miraculously, the man walks away, shaken but apparently unscathed. His unexpected survival is greeted with whoops of delight – The US is the spiritual home of the “whoop”.

Presumably, the demolition contractor responsible will carry on as if nothing happened. But something horrific, catastrophic, predictable, avoidable and almost fatal DID happen.

I call upon the health and safety regulators to throw the book at the company concerned; I call upon the trade associations that steer this industry to condemn publicly this callous act, to ostracise the company concerned, and to issue swift guidance to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. But the message NEEDS to go further.

  • So, to America I say this: How is it that a first world nation can allow demolition methods that would shame a third world country?
  • To the company responsible for this near-fatal accident, I say this: Find another line of work. This industry has no place for individuals with such scant regard for the lives of others.
  • To the man that walked away from this near-death experience, I say this: Go buy yourself a lottery ticket Sir. Your God is clearly smiling down upon you right now.
  • And to the design engineers and manufacturing staff that built the cab of the Komatsu excavator involved I say this: Thank You. Through your hard work, skill and dedication, you saved the life of a man that you have probably never met. He and the demolition industry at large owes you a great debt for protecting one of its own when his employer failed to do so.