Comment – Demolition’s problems encapsulated…

Don’t speak out about safety. It could cost you your job.

It is widely known that multi-billion dollar technology companies like Google and Apple regularly employ the services of known computer hackers. Setting aside the “if you can’t beat them, employ them” ethos behind this, they do so for a very good reason. Computer hackers seek out weaknesses for kicks. They identify and exploit vulnerabilities in complex systems that have been overlooked by the highly-paid programmers that built them.

It is a practice that works. While social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all – with varying degrees of frequency – suffer hacking, virus and outage issues, Google just doesn’t fail. And while PCs are infected on a regular even daily basis, Apple computers are far more resistant to infiltration.

In short, these hackers don’t just identify issues and potential risks; they are paid handsomely to do so in order to make systems more secure.

Contrast that with the apparently preferred approach of the UK demolition industry.

A day or two ago, a demolition manager posted on a social media channel a photo that purportedly showed dangerous practice on the site of a well-known UK demolition company. (You will note that I am not naming the demolition manager for reasons that will become clear. And I am not naming the demolition contractor either as I am not qualified to pass judgement on the practice in question).

Bearing in mind this photo was posted in a week in which one demolition man was killed and a young demolition worker was seriously hurt in a separate incident, you would think that this display of concern and transparency might be cause for praise or – at least – for wider discussion and investigation.

But no. Rather than being thanked for drawing attention to a potentially dangerous situation, the demolition manager has been vilified and castigated by his peers. Worst of all, he has been reminded/warned that his exposure of a potential risk could jeopardise his future employment prospects. And he was warned not once, not twice, not even three times. At the time of writing, he has been “advised” FIVE times about his future job prospects if his post remains visible.

One of those warnings states: “Don’t think our industry needs a post like this after what’s happened in the last couple of weeks”. Seriously? During the period described, the industry has sent one man to the morgue and one woman to intensive care. We should look the other way? Bite our tongues? Keep our concerns to ourselves? If ever there was a time to identify, highlight and analyse dangerous practice, surely that time is now?

We can, of course, debate the wisdom of posting the picture on social media rather than – perhaps – contacting the company involved. (And if we are going to discuss that, then surely we should debate the wisdom of named industry professionals posting their desire for the post to be taken down on the same social media platform). But to do so merely detracts from the core of the problem. And that problem is most certainly not with the person posting a photo on social media.

This is far from being an isolated incident of misplaced anger and misdirected vitriol.

Some months ago, I posted on our Facebook page a short video showing poor demolition practice that resulted in chunks of concrete spilling out into a road that was open to passing traffic. The film was shot by a concerned neighbour whose house was directly in the firing line for the falling debris. That video has now been viewed almost 850,000 times and has attracted a huge number of comments that fall roughly equally into one of two categories. The first category is rightly appalled at the content of the video. The second is rather more focused upon the woman filming the demolition. She is described as a “nosy cow”, told that if she “got a job she wouldn’t have time to worry about demolition”, and to “sit down you nosy old bat”.

Getting back to my original point, when a qualified and experienced demolition manager posts an apparently worrying photo on social media, he should not be placed upon the industry’s “shit list”. Rather, he should move directly to the top of head-hunters’ hit list. He is a man that knows what is right and what is wrong and is not afraid to say so. He can recognise deficiencies and vulnerabilities. He is – for all intents and purposes – a hacker.

The main problem here is clear for all to see. But there is a second, underlying but equally concerning issue.

If the industry creates a climate of fear in which experienced and knowledgeable workers are afraid to speak out lest it impact upon their career prospects, then we will have surrounded ourselves with “yes men” (and women); drones and automatons that will ignore or gloss over genuine safety concerns in return for ongoing employment, access to the next rung on the career ladder, and a future pay rise.

Against such a background, further incidents, accidents and fatalities are not just likely. They are inevitable.