In defence of demolition

Even though Fred Dibnah made his TV debut some 44 years ago, to the British public at large his is still the face of demolition. That same general public are convinced that the demolition industry regularly blows stuff up willy-nilly, and yet explosive demolition accounts for a tiny fraction of all demolition work undertaken on these shores. And when explosive methods are deployed, it is only after months and even years of planning and preparation. (And, for the record, the industry carries out blow DOWNS).

Joe Public is not alone in his/her misunderstanding of the demolition arts. Health and safety professionals seem to believe that demolition workers are queuing up to injure, maim and kill themselves. The truth is that the sector is among the most highly regulated; workers undergo near-constant training;, and the industry’s health and safety track record generally improves year on year.

Now it appears that politicians and academics are the latest to join the ranks of the misinformed and the misguided. Together, they have apparently agreed to overlook the contribution the demolition industry makes to the wider construction sector’s sustainability; how it is a world leader in embracing recycling materials; and how – unlike the construction sector – demolition actually reduces waste; and how it places valuable materials back into the supply chain.

The fact that the general public has misconceptions about demolition is entirely understandable. Much of the industry’s work now takes place behind hoardings that conceal the highly-professional work taking place within. And when demolition is featured on TV shows, t is always accompanied by a commentary that implies jeopardy and imminent disaster, even though it is all under the control of a competent and experienced demolition firm.

The health and safety focus upon demolition is also easy to explain and understand. For as long as there are accidents, they are absolutely right to keep the demolition business under scrutiny (although it is worth reminding people that allied sectors such as construction, waste, recycling and refurbishment ALL have a worse health and safety record than demolition).

With all that being said, you would think that the politicians put in place to govern both the nation and the industries that operate within it might actually take the time to learn about an industry before calling for it to be all but outlawed. And you would think that academics – whose very job is to research and to verify – might have taken the time and trouble to analyse how the sector reduces the need for virgin materials (and all the environmental damage that goes with it) by recovering secondary materials and making them available for new construction).

Unfortunately, the demolition industry’s sustainability contribution – together with its exemplary training, its ever-improving health and safety record, its career opportunities, its willingness to adopt and embrace technology – is lost in the echo chamber of the modern demolition business.

Rather than engaging with and educating others, the UK demolition industry has become adept purely at talking to itself. Demolition seminars here, webinars there, and conferences every once in a while attract those from within and largely fail to engage with those without.

Of course, politicians and academics SHOULD work harder to understand an industry before they threaten to undermine it. But it is surely clear by now that we can’t rely upon them to do so.

As the old saying goes, if you don’t tell, you don’t tell. And if the demolition industry is to truly counter the criticism levelled against it, it needs to raise its game; to raise its profile; and speak to those with power and influence rather than continually talking to itself.