It’s spooky time…

“Darkness falls across the land, the midnight hour is close at hand”.

Halloween is almost upon us. So it is time to resurrect the world’s first demolition ghost story – The Girl in the Green Coat.

Available 100% FREE in both ebook and audio versions, the book was orginally published this time last year and was very well received. But, as DemolitionNews has grown by more than 15% since then, there is likely a huge number of demolition men and women out there that have not experienced this eery tale.

And so we have summoned forth the book from beyond the grave (in other words, we raided the archives) to allow readers new and old to enjoy this spooky tale once again.

We are very proud of the ebook, particularly the cover artwork which only hints at the horrors within. But we are even more proud of the audio version which adds some additional chills to the story.

So grab yourself a copy of the book in the format of your choosing below. You can then read it or listen to it while trying to ignore the children playing trick or treat outside your house.

The Girl in the Green Coat – ebook
The Girl in the Green Coat – audio book

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.

Pub demolition prosecution…

“…work done in a haphazard way and ultimately unsafe manner…”

A building development company and its director have been sentenced after unsafe demolition work took place at a former pub in Bexley.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that on 22 June 2016, the former Ye Olde Leather Bottle pub was completely demolished without appropriate action taken to ensure members of the public were not in danger of harm.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found no safe system of work existed at the time of the incident. There had been no asbestos survey done before the demolition work began, which meant any asbestos-containing materials present would, during the demolition, have caused asbestos fibres to be released and widely spread. The company had not arranged for gas and electricity supplies to be properly disconnected by the appropriate bodies, leading to a potential risk of explosion or of electrocution of people on site.

There were no measures, such as hoarding or fencing, of the site to prevent access to the dangerous activity, or to prevent the ejection of materials from site. The building was on a busy road and pedestrians passing by, including primary school aged children going to and from a school 200 metres away, and traffic were all at risk.

Balmonza Ltd of Woolwich Road, London pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and has been fined £20,000 with £1,000 costs.

Kulvinder Singh, also of Woolwich Road, London pleaded guilty to Section 37(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was sentenced to £5,000. He was ordered to pay costs of £1,000.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE principal inspector Sue Parkyn said: “The work done in a haphazard way and ultimately unsafe manner. This was a very serious incident and it is fortunate nobody was injured as a result. It could so easily have been avoided by ensuring that someone competent was supervising the carrying out the demolition in a planned manner, in accordance with the law, relevant published guidance and British Standards.

“Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”

Curse of the keyboard warrior…

This is NOT a Halloween tale. But it is a horror story.

Just under a week ago, a demolition crew in New Orleans was waiting for the sun to come up to allow them to make their final preparations ahead of a high profile explosive demolition job that would be watched live by thousands of local people and that would be broadcast into millions of homes around the world.

Demolition is never easy. But the task facing this particular crew was especially challenging. They were required to bring down a pair of tower cranes, the integrity of which had been compromised by the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel building to which they were attached a week before. That collapse had already claimed lives. There could be no repeat.

Now there’s three things to note here, before we go any further.

The first is that tower cranes are the spawn of Satan; a verticla prison in which a highly trained man (or woman) with huge skill, precision and hand/eye co-ordination is punished unjustly with prolonged periods of solitary confinement, isolated from the camaraderie and banter taking place far below. I have been up two tower cranes in my life and I regretted it both times. I regretted it the first time because it was high and it was windy and it was swaying. I hated it even more the second time because it was all those things again AND I had allowed myself to be talked into repeating the exercise.

The second thing to note is that explosive demolition is an art practiced by just a very small handful of highly-experienced and highly-professional engineers around the world. And among that select band, there is an even smaller number of people that have ever blasted a tower crane.

The third thing to note is that blasting a tower crane is very different to blasting a building or a structure like a cooling tower. In that instance, there is months of planning and weeks of preparation. Explosives are packed into boreholes and charges are contained to create the implosion effect required to bring down the structure in its own footprint. On the New Orleans tower cranes, there were no boreholes and there was no implosion. There was no time for preparation.

With high winds barrelling towards the city, those tower cranes needed to come down quickly and in the most controlled way possible in the time allotted.

The blast when it came was spectacular. As the charges were not contained, huge fireballs ripped the sky before the crane jibs tumbled to the ground. In fact, several people on our Facebook page actually questioned whether the blast was real or part of some elaborate Hollywood CGI sequence.

Was it a perfectly executed job? You would need to ask the engineers that planned the descent of the crane jibs. Was it aesthetically pleasing; a balletic display of steel succumbing to the pull of gravity? No. Frankly, depending on which camera angle you looked at, it looked pretty bloody untidy; like so many giraffe falling down so many stairs. But no-one was hurt and no-one was killed. In fact, by getting the cranes on the ground before the high winds hit, there is every possibility that lives were actually saved by the actions of the demolition crew.

The timely intervention of the demolition crew should be applauded then, right? The fact that they dropped everything to attend to an emergency situation should see them praised and lauded by their peers, right? The bravery of the men that placed the explosives on the crane jibs high above “The Big Easy” could be worthy of a medal or something, right?

Sadly though, this is the world of demolition; this is the age of the Internet and social media; and this is the domain of the keyboard warrior.

There was still dust in the air when the criticism began. Armchair engineers and experts crawled out from the caves they generally occupy to hold forth on how THEY would have tackled this difficult and treacherous job. Of course, none of them had walked the site. None of them knew the true condition of the cranes. None of them were aware of the high winds forecast in the area. In fact, as far as I could tell, none of them had ever blasted anything in their lives, aside from each other. Yet, from the safety of their keyboards, THEY were the experts.
Maybe this is not unique to the demolition sector. But it does seem ironic that, in this of all sectors, that the best way to build yourself up is seemingly to tear down someone else.

I witnessed the same phenomenon in the aftermath of the Didcot disaster as TV crews spoke to one armchair expert after another, all of whom had “seen it coming” and had told EVERYONE that it was “an accident waiting to happen”. I am calling BS. If you were that much of an expert my friend, you would have been INSIDE the site hoarding, not outside watching it unfold through your binoculars from your mother’s dingy back bedroom.

Somehow, though, the online pronouncements upon the success (or otherwise) of the crane blast in New Orleans was worse. Many of the people making these pronouncements work in demolition. And while they might not be involved in the field of explosives, they know better than most what a tricky, hazardous and challenging business this is.

The fact that they chose to criticise their own so publicly and so vehemently perhaps sheds light on why so few men (and it is mainly men) in this industry are willing to share their concerns, their internal battles or their vulnerability. Because, based upon this latest episode, it wouldn’t matter how bad your problems might be or how severe your depression is.
There will be an armchair expert out there that would have done it better.

Right to be concerned…

Massive concrete fines will send shockwaves thorugh demolition sector.

News that three companies in the concrete products sector have been fined a total of £36 million for their part in a price-fixing ring will send shockwaves through the UK demolition sector. The fines have been imposed by the Competition and Markets Authority which is thought to be investigating as many as six UK demolition companies for alleged collusion.

Following an investigation CMA, the Northern Ireland-based firm FP McCann Ltd is facing a fine of more than £25 million for its part in the scheme. Derbyshire-based Stanton Bonna Concrete Ltd and Somerset-based CPM Group Ltd are due to pay more than £7.0 million and £4.0 million respectively. The fines have been imposed after the CMA found that the companies broke competition law by taking part in an illegal cartel covering Great Britain. From July 2006 to March 2013, they agreed to fix or coordinate their prices, shared the market by allocating customers and regularly exchanged competitively sensitive information.

These arrangements continued for nearly seven years and involved meetings attended by senior executives from each of the firms. The CMA recorded a number of these meetings and used them as evidence when arriving at its final decision.

“These companies entered into illegal arrangements where they secretly shared out the market for important building products and agreed to keep prices artificially high. This is totally unacceptable as it cheats customers out of getting a good deal,” says Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s Chief Executive. “The CMA will not hesitate to issue appropriately large fines in these cases and we will continue to crack down on cartels in the construction sector and in other industries.”

Speaking exclusively to DemolitionNews last week, National Federation of Demolition Contractors’ CEO Howard Button said that the CMA investigation could “jeopardise the whole industry“. If any demolition companies are found guilt of similar financial irregularities and fines of a similar size were levied against UK demolition firms, Button’s fears could be realised.

A grisly find…

Human bones found as demoition begins.

Police have been forced to cordon off a building site in Leicestershire after builders discovered human bones.

Workmen found the bones at Catherine Dalley House in Melton Mowbray, Leics, a former care home, while clearing the site for demolition.

A spokesperson for Leicestershire Police said: “Officers received a report at around 3.30pm on Thursday after human bones had been found at a site off Scalford Road, Melton Mowbray, Leics.

“Officers attended the area. A scene preservation is in place and enquiries, which are in the early stages, are ongoing.”

Read more here.

Exclusive – Self-assembled success…

“Ikea-style” attachment goes to work.

Regular readers might recall that a month ago, almost to the day, we brought you details of what we described as an “Ikea-style” concrete pulveriser that had been proposed by Italian attachments company, Repalo. The company was offering the design for an attachment that a customer could then build themselves.

At the time, the concept was met with a huge amount of debate, most of it positive. In fact, in an Instagram poll of our 93,000+ followers, more than two-thirds hailed the idea as “the future”.

Well, the future is here. An Italian contractor based close to Repalo’s headquarters in Bari has built just such an attachment and the 2,200 kg pulveriser is now at work. In the exclusive video clip (below) you can see it in action for the first time:

Collard strengthens waste position…

Acquisition coincides with anniversary celebrations.

Hampshire-based entrepreneur, Rob Collard, is celebrating 25 years in the waste business with the acquisition of Raymond Brown Waste Solutions (RBWS). The purchase, which was announced on Friday (18th Oct 2019), further elevates Collard Group Ltd into the top-tier of waste management companies with a 1 million+ tonne annual capacity for waste and recycling.

The addition of RBWS’ resources including the incorporation of three strategically-located waste transfer stations at Chilton (Didcot), Nursling (Southampton) and at Andover on the A303 will expand Collard’s geographical footprint to become an even more significant player in the waste sector in the South. It now operates from nine recycling centres across five counties from Hampshire to Surrey, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire.

A combination of investment and acquisition has seen Collard Group grow exponentially in recent years into a multi-disciplined provider of demolition, recycling, skip hire, haulage, aggregates and earthworks as well as supplying high-grade secondary aggregates and ready-mixed concrete. The newly-combined business now boasts over 4000 skips, a 150-vehicle fleet, more than 400 staff and a turnover in excess of £50 million.

“The deal brings together two successful businesses and strong brands, creating greater capacity for R Collard and expanding the services available to Raymond Brown Waste Solutions’ existing customers” says Rob who as founder and owner remains a hands-on presence at R Collard Ltd, “We felt there was great synergy between the two companies in terms of service profile as well as approach to recycling and sustainability “

Don Coates, Chief Executive Officer commented: “Raymond Brown Waste Solutions has been a key part of the group’s overall development but will now have more opportunities for growth as part of a focussed waste business. I thank my colleagues for their hard work and dedication to Raymond Brown Group over the years and with them all the best in what I am sure will be a prospering waste company. Raymond Brown Group will now concentrate on growing its Quarry Products and Fortis IBA divisions both of which have had recent success in securing new reserves and contracts.”

Rob and his management team are keen to reassure existing customers of both companies that it will be ‘business as usual’ following the announcement:
“The integration of RBWS’ facilities, fleet, equipment and – most importantly – it’s people including the existing management team will enable us to achieve a seamless transition of service for existing customers,” he continues, “The two brands will continue to exist alongside each other as we work to merge RBWS into Collard Group.”
Raymond Brown Waste Solutions operates the Chilton Waste and Brown Skips brands.

The acquisition coincides with the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of R Collard Ltd and marks a major milestone in the company’s history.

Comment – So what IS the answer..?

The UK demolition industry has reached a crossroads.

An industry friend and sparring partner has recently read my somewhat controversial article “where’s your fury” in which I lambasted the wider demolition industry for its ongoing failure to address accidents and curtail fatalities. Having read the article in question, that friend asked me – simply – OK, so what is the answer?

My answer is somewhat contradictory in that I am NOT a demolition expert. I am not even a demolition professional. My views and opinions are merely those of an interested bystander and a concerned onlooker. That being said, with industry bigwigs remaining tight-lipped over recent accidents and fatalities, who else is going to offer answers? So I offer my thoughts and opinions in the knowledge that they can and probably will be dismissed as the ramblings of an ignorant outsider or a thinly-veiled attempt to attract more readers by upsetting the industry apple-cart once again.

Short Term

1. A client – ideally a major one – needs to be prosecuted for their role in a demolition accident. Under CDM Regs (and, perhaps more so, morally) clients are required to provide the demolition contractor with the information required to do their job effectively. They are required to select a contractor of proven competence. And they are required to give the chosen demolition contractor the time in which to carry out its work safely. All too often, one or all of these things does not happen. And yet, when things go pear-shaped, it is the demolition contractor that is left to carry the can. That is, quite simply, unacceptable. And all of it could be addressed with greater contractual transparency. Clients should be required to publish details of the bids received for a demolition contract and they should be required to explain why they have chosen one demolition contractor over several others. If the answer to that question is just lowest cost price, further questions need to be raised. Furthermore, the time allowed to carry out the demolition works, once agreed, should be sacrosanct, not whittled down to suit the client or to satisfy some “value engineering” drive. Demolition is a skill and a discipline just like any other aspect of the construction and civil engineering process and it should, therefore, be afforded sufficient time. Any client representative attempting to reduce demolition timescales should be reported and held accountable. Anyone uttering the sentence “you need to hurry up, the piling contractor arrives tomorrow” should be fired on the spot.
2. Details of ALL reportable incidents should be made public and should be stored on a central hub that is accessible to everyone including clients, stakeholders, and the general public. Furthermore, ALL stakeholders should be required to present their interim findings of the likely cause of that accident within a specific timeframe of – say – one month WITHOUT prejudicing any possible prosecution that might follow.

Medium Term

1. A root and branch review of industry training and its delivery is now long overdue. We have a plethora of cards that are supposed to prove competence and yet we have a growing list of incidents, accidents and fatalities that strongly suggest otherwise. That root and branch review should look deeply into the need for experience and take training out of the classroom and onto sites. When you learn to drive, you do so in a real car. When you learn to fly, you are required to support classroom/simulator training with real flight time. Demolition is not just a skill that is difficult to explain and to teach, it is a discipline that needs to be experienced first-hand in an environment in which the risks are real and not words in a text book or computer-generated. In addition, we should utilise one of the industry’s greatest assets and resources – The demolition men (and women) that are now nearing or who have reached retirement age. It is a bizarre analogy to draw but look at football. Just about every premiership manager is a former player, often one that has been very successful. Upon their retirement, they become managers because they have often learned from the very best themselves; and because, having enjoyed success themselves, they come ready-equipped with both experience and – just as importantly – respect.
2. Sticking with the subject of training, the demolition industry needs to draw from a richer well of employees if it is to prosper. For far too long, the industry has drawn from a pool of employees that have been overlooked (or avoided) by other industry sectors and employers. The construction industry in general and the civil engineering sector in particular has become a fertile ground for well-educated and highly intelligent young people. Demolition, which works hand-in-glove with those sectors, continues to employ those that quit school at 14, struggle to read and write, and whom are destined for a career as a “follower”. Only when the industry employs more leaders than followers will we see a change in the rate of accidents.
3. I have said it so many times that I am now starting to bore myself. But the Health and Safety Executive (a) needs to publish its findings more quickly and (b) should be held accountable if it does not. The HSE has at its disposal a veritable library of potential learning opportunities, but it is buried beneath a mountain of bureaucracy that is itself placing men and women at risk. The protracted and needlessly prolonged investigation into the boiler house collapse at Didcot A Power Station MUST be a turning point. Other power stations are being demolished here in the UK and overseas as we speak. The HSE’s failure to present even preliminary findings in more than three and a half years is a disgrace. And if, God forbid, there is another boiler house collapse, then the HSE’s failure to share potentially vital information in a timely manner should surely be called into question.

Longer Term

1. It is my personal belief that we have now reached an impasse; a tipping point that has the potential to redress the demolition landscape once and for all; a crossroads When the findings from Didcot, Longannet, Redcar and Great Yarmouth are made public; when the causes of the numerous scaffold collapses are published; and when the Competition and Markets Authority are done delving through the dustbins of the six unnamed contractors suspected of collusion, surely the time has now come for demolition contractors to be licensed? We have licenses for asbestos contractors – perhaps demolition’s closest cousins – because their work is considered hazardous. A license is required to run a waste management business for the same reason. And both those licenses can be revoked if the license holder is found wanting in some way. I will accept that the NFDC Accredited Site Audit Scheme was a step in the right direction. But the NFDC represents only a quarter of the UK’s demolition contractors; and one or two audits per year of companies that might have 15 or more live sites at any given moment is hardly all-encompassing. Furthermore, the fact that the NFDC member company gets to select the site(s) to be audited surely calls into question the validity and credibility of any audit pass. Only unannounced inspections – like those conducted by the HSE – can find out what is really going on behind site hoardings across the country.

I am sure that there are many out there that would like to add their own suggestions about how the industry might bounce back from its recent run or incidents, accidents and tragedies. And we’d love to hear your thoughts via email:

NOLA cranes downed..

Explosive end for cranes at site of major collapse.

Crews in New Orleans set off a series of explosions designed to topple two cranes looming over the ruins of the partially collapsed Hard Rock Hotel yesterday.

The demolition came a week after the Hard Rock Hotel collapsed during its construction. The two cranes sustained significant damage when the hotel’s upper floors collapsed onto each other on October 12, taking the lives of three construction workers.

Officials were concerned the cranes would fall on their own, possibly hitting nearby buildings or damaging underground gas and electrical lines