State of Emergency…?

According to Wikipedia, a State of Emergency is defined as “…a situation in which a government is empowered to perform actions that it would normally not be permitted to do. Such declarations alert citizens to change their normal behaviour…”

Now I realise that the UK demolition industry does not have its own stand-alone government as such. But in light of recent and ongoing events, the industry desperately needs to “perform actions that it would not normally be permitted to do”. Furthermore, there has seldom been a time in which the citizens of the UK demolition world needed to change their behaviour more.

Multiple accidents, multiple scaffold collapses, multiple fatalities and an ongoing investigation into alleged collusion and price-fixing should have placed the industry on high alert.
These factors will have had a similar effect upon those that monitor the industry. Anyone that thinks the Health and Safety Executive has failed to note the recent collection of scaffold collapses for further investigation is kidding themselves. Anyone that thinks that the ongoing Competition and Markets Authority Investigation will prove to be a lot of smoke and no fire is delusional. And anyone that believes the findings (when they eventually come) from the investigation into the deadly boiler house collapse at the Didcot A Power Station will not fundamentally change the very nature of the entire UK demolition industry quite possibly requires psychiatric intervention.

All of which, in a nutshell, means that – sooner or later – the legislators will be headed this way. That leaves the entire industry with two basic choices. It can wait for that inevitable knock at the door and then take on the chin any regulatory measures set in place by government bodies with little or no understanding of the demolition process. Or the industry can make a pre-emptive strike to get its own house in order in a manner that will raise the industry bar without causing irreparable harm and damage to individual demolition companies. The latter would, of course, be preferable. But for it to be truly effective and for it to avoid interference and complication by external forces, such a move would need to be all-inclusive: now is not the time for bipartisan politics, separate silos of members and non-members; now is the time for the industry to unite against a gathering storm of potentially business-threatening regulation.

Of course, the simplistic answer is for the industry to agree to some form of licensing scheme, similar to that operated in the asbestos industry. It is no secret that I think that such a license would help raise the industry competence bar. That being said, I am not convinced that this is the panacea to all the industry’s current ills. Looking back over the various scaffold collapses, accidents and fatalities of the past few years, it is notable that all of them involved companies that you might expect to sail through any licensing accreditation process. The industry has problems and issues from the very top to the very bottom; and there is currently no evidence to suggest that it is the “cowboy element” that is dragging down the industry reputation.

So I have laid out the challenges, but what is the solution?

Personally, I think that an open-to-all, cross-party meeting/conference to be held in the most central location possible is the starting point. Now, I know what you’re thinking but I am not talking about THAT kind of meeting or THAT kind of conference. I am talking about an event with one or two independent and universally respected hosts to keep things in order whilst lending the event the credibility it requires (I will put the names of John Woodward and Dr Terry Quarmby into the frame, even though I have consulted with neither of them). There would be no guest speakers, no sponsors, no chains of office and no rank. This would be just a coming together of as many UK demolition contractors as the venue will allow to discuss a pre-agreed agenda of how the industry might move forward together.

That meeting would agree a small and manageable number of action points and an agreement to meet again within six months or less to start the construction of a new industry framework.
There would be objections, no doubt. There are some for whom the very thought of setting aside memberships, ranks and chains of office will be an immediate obstacle. There will be a few that will be unwilling to set aside rivalries and divisions from the past. There might be one or two that would prefer not to share a platform with those they consider to be sub-contractors and who should, therefore, remain quietly obedient and anonymous. Such resistance would be short-sighted and deeply unwise.

When they come (and they WILL come), the legislators and regulators will make no such distinctions. Not since the height of the Blitz has the industry required strength in numbers in the way it does today. The industry either unites behind a single cause (and yes, feel free to return to your little cliques, silos and enclaves afterwards) or it is leaving itself open to being picked off one by one by regulators with an axe to grind.

In a state of emergency, there is safety in numbers.