Comment – Preparing for the inevitable

Two incidents in quick succession underline the need for a dedicated demolition benevolent fund.

Two incidents, exactly one week apart. One man dead. One young lady critically hurt. Two families in despair. One industry linked directly to both incidents.

It is hard to look at the incident that critically injured Shannon Brasier on a site in Southend last week and the incident in Tottenham yesterday in which an as-yet-unnamed man was killed and retain any sense of pride in the demolition sector.

We refer to demolition companies and workers as professional when – once again – the evidence suggests that we are anything but.
Any hope that the sector might return from the COVID-19 lockdown with a renewed sense of safety have quickly dissipated as we find ourselves treading a familiar path to the hospital in one case and to the cemetery in the other.

A comment on LinkedIn today from a man who experienced the Didcot disaster first-hand is perhaps the most telling. He said, simply, “when will it end?”

There will be investigations of course. Long and so protracted that those of us not directly impacted will have forgotten the original incident long before any judgement is passed.

There will be sadness within the industry. But it is a sadness that is expressed with such frequency that it has lost all meaning. Tell your wife or your husband that you love them 15 times a day and – sooner or later – it stops being an expression of some deep connection and it just becomes something you say; a punctuation mark at the end of a conversation.

And then there’s the helplessness and the guilt shared between those that DID go home to their families last night and that WILL do so again tonight; that will continue to put food on the table for their loved ones.

Incidents and fatalities occur with such painful frequency within this sector that we each now know our roles. We know the appropriate thing to say on social media are “thoughts/prayers are with his/her family” and you know that because it’s only a few months, a few weeks or – in this case – a few days since you last wrote it.

Here in the journalistic hinterland, I default to sensitive mode. I avoid details of the nature of the accident and any injuries sustained. I release names only wen they’re in the public domain. I share details of any fundraising initiative that might be taking place, hoping that the wider demolition industry has not yet succumbed to charity fatigue and that they will dig deep – once again – for one of their own.

Then, when the dust has settled and the investigations are underway, we store away those feelings of sadness and frustration. We pack away our kind words and our thoughtful gestures. But we keep them close at hand because each of us knows that we’ll be needing them again soon. Too soon.

This past week, like so many weeks before it, has proven that incidents, accidents and fatalities cannot be legislated out of the industry. Likewise, it has proven they cannot be trained out of the sector either. And anyone suggesting that membership of a trade body might miraculously render a company impervious to accidents need only look at last year’s fatality statistics to recognise the sheer lunacy of such claims.

So, given the inevitability of injury and death on UK demolition sites, surely the time has come for the sector to have its own benevolent fund; a charitable trust set aside to provide immediate financial assistance to the families of those men and women maimed or killed in the name of demolition.

I am not offering to run it. I know my place. I am not a demolition man. I am merely a guy with a flimsy grasp of grammar, a vague understanding of punctuation, and the occasional nifty turn of phrase; a nifty turn of phrase that has earned me as many detractors and enemies as it has friends. But, in the absence of volunteers, I would take on the role. Not because I want it and certainly not because I am eyeing a medal or some national honour as a result. I would do it because the industry needs it.

Today, as I am writing this, there is a family somewhere grieving the loss of a loved one killed in a wholly avoidable building collapse in North London yesterday. There is a family in Essex that – due to the COVID-19 crisis – cannot be at the bedside of a 20-year old loved one as she fights for her life following an equally avoidable incident last week.

Those families should not be worrying about how they might buy groceries, pay the rent or keep the lights on. They have more than enough with which to contend.

Such a benevolent fund will not mend Shannon Brasier. It will not bring back the man killed on site in Tottenham yesterday.

But if it takes away just a tiny amount of worry and concern, then surely that is the least the industry can do to help its own.