Comment – Compensation is no compensation…

How many demolition deaths is enough?

There is a family grieving in Miami, Florida right now; one that is trying to comprehend how the head of that family went to work more than a week ago but who never came home. A family that will – sooner or later – have to confront the very real challenge of continuing without its primary bread-winner. A family that has been robbed of its father figure and its figurehead.

The death of 46-year old Samuel Landis, who was killed in a tragic but wholly avoidable accident when a building collapsed prematurely as it was being prepared for demolition, will leave an indelible scar upon his family. His death will be forever associated with the name Allied Bean, the contractor for whom Landis was an experienced project manager. And his death SHOULD be a line in the sand for the wider demolition industry. Sadly, it probably won’t be.

In the initial aftermath of our reporting of the accident in which Landis sustained such horrific injuries that they would ultimately claim his life, there was an almost universal outpouring of shock and of kinship. But that support was quickly undercut with a growing suggestion that the company he worked for would have some kind of liability insurance; that his family would soon be receiving a sizeable compensation pay-out.

Call me a simple-minded idiot if you wish but that is the equivalent of buying a car with no brakes but feeling fully assured because it has a functioning air-bag system for when the inevitable happens.

The term compensation is a misnomer. All the money in the world cannot compensate for the loss of a loved one; for the death of a beloved spouse; for a child facing a fatherless future.
Landis’ passing leaves so many unanswered questions, not least of which is how a 13-storey building manages to collapse before demolition work gets fully underway. That question will, of course, be addressed by the police and by the health and safety authorities in the US. But the wider demolition industry faces a good many questions of its own:

How is it that the industry has set in place a system of fatality payouts and accident compensations without fully addressing the very incidents that make such systems necessary?

How is it that one of the most advanced demolition nations in the world continues to send its workers to the hospital, and to the morgue?

How is it that the industry has devised staggering advances in technology like remote controlled demolition robots and drone site planning and yet cannot protect the life of each and every one
of its workers?

How is it that a demolition death – regardless of where in the world it occurs – can pass from hot topic to yesterday’s news with seemingly no stopping between the two?

How is it that in 2018 – an age in which we have all the industry’s combined and collective knowledge at our fingertips – we are still devising methodologies that can potentially place workers at risk?

But there is one much bigger question – a gigantic woolly mammoth in the room – that we should all address first.

How many men and women need to die before the global industry grasps the safety nettle once and for all? How many demolition deaths is enough?