Comment – Consistently inconsistent…

Fine handed down after site fatality highlights fickle nature of legal system.

It is just 48 hours since I – like so many before me – labelled the law an ass. But with uncustomary haste, the legal profession has today proved itself so be so much worse than that. With a single ruling, it has proven itself to be utterly inconsistent and wildly out of touch. It has proven that it values material things above human life. It has proven that for all its talk of and reliance upon precedent, the UK legal system largely makes up the rules as it goes along. It has proven itself to be a blunderbuss solution to a problem that requires a deftly-wielded scalpel; a baboon in a wig.

The reason for my original (latest) outburst was the fact that a (non-demolition) company had been fined £1.2 million as a result of the injuries sustained by two teenage boys that broke into a site (illegally) and climbed atop a train (illegally) and received a serious electric shock. So, before I move on, that is £1.2 million for a non-fatal incident caused – primarily – by trespass. Got that? OK.

Today comes the news that demolition company McGee Group has been prosecuted and fined over the death of a worker back in 2014. The level of that fine? £500,000 and some loose change in legal costs.

What can we draw from this? That you can kill a worker and be hit with a fine that amounts to a slap on the wrist; but allow two teenage trespassers to be electrocuted and the fine tops the million pound mark?

If this were an isolated incident, I’d be willing to pass it off; to let it slide by without mention or comment. But it isn’t.

Cast your mind back to May 2018 an you might recall that UK demolition contractor found itself on the pointy end of a £566,000 fine after the skip of a truck “touched or came close to touching 33KV overhead power lines”. No-one was hurt in that incident. The power lines were undamaged. The lights stayed on locally. Yet Mick George – the contractor in question – was hit with a fine of more than half a million pounds because it “should have assessed the risks from the overhead power lines more rigorously”.

I hate to labour the point but that is a £1.2 million fine for a tragic but non-fatal incident, £566,000 for an incident in which no-one was hurt, and £500,000 for a wholly-avoidable accident in which a demolition worker was killed.

It is, I admit, overly simplistic to compare these three separate cases; like comparing apples with oranges. However, it is impossible to overlook the fact that a fatal accident has been considered less “fine-worthy” than an incident in which no-one was hurt or injured. Such a lack of consistency is to the detriment of the legal profession and calls into question just what it, and the judges that preside over it, believe to be the important matters.

In light of this latest ruling, the family of Lithuanian-born Dainius Rupsys have every right to feel aggrieved that it has taken six years for the judiciary to value the life of their loved one so cheaply. In light of this latest ruling, the directors of Mick George would be fully justified in spitting feathers over the disproportionate fine with which it was hit over a “non-incident”. McGee Group, meanwhile, didn’t just dodge a bullet. Instead, in a judicial misfire, it received barely a scratch even though the company found itself in the legal system’s crosshairs at point blank range.

Jet’s continent drift…

Jet Demolition carries out successful blast in Kochi, India.

It wa sjust a few shorts weeks ago that we reported on Jet Demolition carrying out the controlled explosive demolition of the former Bank of Lisbon building in the company’s native South Africa. But now the company has carried out an equally succesful blast in India to further cement its position as a growing force in the international explosive demolition stakes.

The last of the four illegal apartment complexes in Maradu in Kochi was razed down through controlled implosion, marking the completion of the demolition drive against the waterfront high rises ordered by the Supreme Court over three months ago for “violation of Coastal Regulation Zone norms”.

McGee slapped with fatality fine…

Demolition firm fined almost six years after fatal accident.

McGee Group has been fined half a million pounds after a father-of-two was killed when a reinforced concrete slab collapsed underneath him during a London demolition project.

Southwark Crown Court heard that on 14 April 2014, 33-year-old labourer Dainius Rupsys from Lithuania was working with an excavator operator at the site on Grosvenor Square in London, as part of the operation to demolish the existing multi-storey building before 31 residential flats could be built.

Rupsys had been burning through reinforcing steel bars with an oxy-propane lance to assist the excavator operator’s efforts to remove part of the reinforced concrete slab. Another worker had alerted the supervisor that their work had made the structure unsafe and the demolition was halted. However, the supervisor then ordered the removal of props supporting the remaining slab and less than ten minutes later it collapsed. The Court heard that the 360 excavator may have moved back onto the slab after the props were removed.

Rupsys, the 360 excavator and its operator in the cab all fell with the slab. Mr Rupsys suffered severe head injuries and died at the scene, while the excavator operator injured his back.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that in the weeks before the incident CCTV from overhead cameras showed demolition work had been carried out unsafely, that Rupsys was not adequately trained to use the oxy-propane lance and that he had no training on using the safety harness, which was not attached when the incident occurred.

McGee Group , the principal contractor for the project, pleaded guilty to a breach of Regulation 22(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The company was fined £500,000 with £66,236,22 in costs.

“In the weeks prior to this tragic incident workers were regularly put at an acute risk of falling. This is a case of a company wanting to have good systems to protect the workers, but not paying enough attention to what was actually happening at the site,” says HSE inspector Andrew Verrall-Withers. “This young man’s death could have been prevented. Mr Rupsys should not have been allowed to operate an oxy propane lance. Employers have a duty to check workers have sufficient skills, knowledge, experience and training before they allow them to use equipment.”

The plot thickens…

Court papers reveal CMA raid on DSM.

The legal battle between the current and the former owners of DSM Demolition grows more acrimonious with each passing day. But while the legal machinations are unpleasant, they are also illuminating.

The England and Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division) Decisions entry for the case posted on the British and Irish Legal Information Institute website is an impenetrable morass of legal jargon, littered with litigants, appellants and other phrases designed to confound and confuse.

But item 34 of Lord Justice Simon’s findings is revealing as it confirms that the DSM offices have previously been raided by officers from the Competition and Markets Authority, presumably as part of the ongoing investigation into alleged collusion within the UK demolition sector.

That investigation remains ongoing; and there is nothing within the court papers to suggest that DSM has been guilty of any wrongdoing. But this is the first time that the name of one of the six or seven demolition firms thought to be under investigation has been made public; and it gives lie to the suggestion that the CMA investigation is merely a journalistic fiction.

You can read those court papers here.

The walls have ears…

DSM in industrial espionage and phone tapping case.

2019 was already a bad year for the UK demolition industry. Tainted by multiple site deaths and accidents, tarnished by a flurry of scaffold collapses, blotted by an ongoing investigation into collusion and blackened by a scathing indictment from the UK’s largest union; it was hard to imagine that the industry’s reputation could sink any lower.

But now one of the industry’s largest and most-profitable contractors finds itself at the very heart of an ongoing court case replete with claims of industrial espionage and covert telephone bugging.

According to a report in the Law Society Gazette, the office of Adrian Kennedy, in-house solicitor at demolition business DSM SFG, was bugged for two months at the end of 2018 and 40 hours of conversations recorded. Many of the conversations were ‘privileged and confidential’ ones between Kennedy and Stuart McNeill of Pinsent Masons.

According to the judgment, litigant John Thomas Kelly admitted in a witness statement to asking a retired police officer to bug the office after he became anxious about a £23 million transaction in which he sold interest in various businesses. The litigation concerns whether Kelly could rely on the covert recordings to support a legal claim.

More details here.

Comment – New Year hangover…

Instead of a fresh start, demolition starts the New Year still wreaking of 2019.

It landed like a gift-wrapped dog turd; an explosive reality check timed to ensure that anyone thinking we could leave the tragic events of last year beneath the 2019 rug would need to think again.

On Christmas Eve, the UK’s largest union – Unite – called for immediate improvements to health and safety standards within the demolition sector following what it described as a “horrendous year”. Calling upon the Health and Safety Executive to investigate the plethora of accidents and incidents experienced by the industry during 2019, Unite also said it will be pressuring enforcement agencies and employers to step up their efforts to safeguard demolition workers.

This unprecedented statement comes in the wake of a year in which the demolition sector suffered four high profile fatalities together with four very public scaffold collapses in quick succession. Unite also pointed to incomplete or unsatisfactory investigations into the tragedies at Didcot, Oxford, involving Coleman and Company, in which four men died in 2016 after a disused power station collapsed; and the 2014 death of man who was crushed after a digger fell through the a concrete slab that was being demolished by McGee in Grosvenor Square, London.

“As we approach 2020, Unite demands to know what the industry and enforcement agencies are going to do to address these incidents and ensure next year is a safe year for demolition workers,” the union says.

In an instant, the demolition sector found itself outflanked, out-of-step and massively outgunned. As usual, the industry treated the four fatalities and the series of scaffold collapses with a practiced silence, choosing to ignore the elephant in the room even while that elephant was taking a shit on the carpet. The Unite union clearly has no time nor patience for that approach. It has instead trumpeted the elephant’s presence across the national media; and that could cost the industry dearly in the long run.

The UK demolition industry comprises less than 550 contractors. Unite has more than 1.2 million members. The demolition hierarchy might speak to the HSE on a regular basis, but Unite has sufficient clout to make it sit up and take notice. Unite also has the ear of government. So while the NFDC recently offered its members assurances that the HSE was not considering any form of licensing, it had reckoned without the interjection by the UK’s largest union. The fact that the Unite press statement mentions the HSE and enforcement agencies as separate entities surely suggests that it supports some other form of enforcement.

In truth, the implementation of a licensing scheme – similar to that operated in both the asbestos and waste sectors – is gaining support from the demolition industry itself. Many believe that the possible revocation of a license would prove to be the ultimate deterrent to less scrupulous operators while ensuring a single standard for the entire industry. I have said it before and I shall say it again: The only people that need worry about the licensing of demolition are those contractors that would be incapable of achieving the criterion; and those that fear their perceived power base might be diminished. Neither of those outcomes would be a bad thing.

And so, the UK demolition industry finds itself starting the New Year and the New Decade being taken to task by the country’s largest union; still under investigation for alleged collusion; still under investigation over four site deaths; and still under investigation over four scaffold collapses.

Many – myself included – would have hoped that we might all start the New Year with a clean slate and ready to put in place some New Year’s Resolutions. Instead, we look set to start 2020 with a sizeable and very public hangover.

Demolition man honoured…

John Thompson Snr named in New Years’ Honours List.

John Thompson Snr, chairman of much-respected demolition firm Thompsons of Prudhoe, has been awarded with an MBE in the Queen’s New Years’ Honours List.

Son of company founders and Madge, John Thomson Snr was honoured for his services to the economy and the community in Northumberland having led the ever growing Thompson’s company, forming Thompson Environmental Trust and acting as president of the Prudhoe Community Allotment.

The announcement has been greeted with universal popularity in demolition circles with many of his peers and even his competitors describing John Thompson Snr as “a true gentleman”.

Thompsons of Prudhoe was founded in 1948 by William (Bill) and Margaret (Madge) Thompson as a simple husband and wife partnership. The ethos of hard work was embedded into Bill and Madge’s sons, Billy and John. They joined the business full-time as soon as they left school aged 17 and 15 years respectively and were soon driving wagons, spreaders and excavators.

Although Bill and Madge set up the business and gave it a firm footing, it was Billy and John Thompson who really drove the business through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to expand from hauliers and suppliers of agricultural products, to a multi-million pound regional heavyweight.

John (now known as John Thompson Snr.) still plays an active role as Chairman of the Group, offering his huge wealth of experience and advice to John Thompson Jnr. and Helen Hillary (the third generation) who run the business with four other Directors who are long-standing, non-family, members of staff: John Burdon, Kevin Robson, Frank Hurst and Nick Shilling.

We made it…!

We now have more than 100,000 followers on Instagram.

On 7 January 2019, we laid out our ambitious plans for the year that stretched before us. One of those plans was to reach 100,000 followers on Instgram. It was an ambitious taget, given that – at the time – we had just 53,488.

And yet here we are. Just under 12 months later and the ticker just clicked over to say that we achieved that goal with a few days left to spare.

It has not been easy. To almost double our following has taken a huge amount of dedication, commitment and almost religious fervour to maintain our three posts per day for an entire year. But we also learned a great deal along the way to becoming the largest online demolition community in the world. (You can read all about it in our FREE ebook which you can order here).

There are others out there that claim to be the voice of the global demolition industry. But unless they are speaking to an audience of 100,000 industry professionals three times per day, seven days per week and 365 days per year, you might like to take those claims with a sizeable pinch of salt!

So thank you to all those that have followed us this past year. We don’t currently have any specific numerical goals in mind for 2020, although we do intend to maintain our schedule of bringing you the best photos and video content the demolition world has to offer. If you’re one of the (seemingly very) few demolition folks not following us on Instagram, be sure to give us a follow.

Unite calls for safety improvements…

Union responds to “horrendous year” for demolition.

Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today that 2020 must bring safety improvements for demolition workers following a number of fatalities and accidents this year.

Highlighting a series of major incidents in 2019 within the demolition industry, Unite said it would be writing to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the new year to demand that the incidents are investigated properly and lessons implemented.

Unite also said it will be pressuring enforcement agencies and employers to step up their efforts to safeguard demolition workers.

Major incidents in 2019 include four deaths at three different sites and the collapse of scaffolding around a derelict shopping centre in Reading that was being demolished by McGee.

In February this year, a demolition worker employed by Brown and Mason died at the Longannet power station in Fife. Two more demolition workers employed by JF Hunt died at Redcar Steelworks, North Yorkshire, in September, while one Veolia employee died and another was seriously injured while dismantling a gas rig in Great Yarmouth in October.

Unite also pointed to incomplete or unsatisfactory investigations into the tragedies at Didcot, Oxford, involving Coleman and Company, in which four men died in 2016 after a disused power station collapsed, and the 2014 death of man who was crushed after a digger fell through the a concrete slab that was being demolished by McGee in Grosvenor Square, London.

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “This year has been horrendous for the demolition industry. In addition to four fatalities, we had a major scaffold collapse during the demolition of a shopping centre in Reading, in which thankfully no one was killed.

“There must be a full inquiry into the scaffold collapse that cannot be limited simply to its immediate causes. It must also examine whether the work had been sub-let, the competence of the company carrying out the work, the role of the client, whether all the workers on site were correctly employed and if they had all the appropriate skills and training.

“It is essential that we learn the lessons from this accident, which could have been far more serious, to prevent similar incidents occurring in the future. For too long there has been inadequate investigations and responses to accidents and dangerous conditions in the demolition industry and workers continue to pay for that with their lives.

“For instance, why are we are still in a position that closure has not been reached on the four fatalities at Didcot in 2016 or the death at Grosvenor Square in 2014? That’s five families still waiting for an outcome, years after the tragedies happened.

“As we approach 2020, Unite demands to know what the industry and enforcement agencies are going to do to address these incidents and ensure next year is a safe year for demolition workers.

“Clients need to take some responsibility for ensuring contractors are employing workers in core activities rather than simply sub-letting everything. They could carry out checks on how many workers each contractor covers in the industry’s B&CE Death Benefit Scheme, which provides life insurance. That would give them an indication as to how many demolition workers each contractor employs directly. A simple but effective check”

Lightning strikes twice…

Contractor demolishes wrong house…again.

Just like Santa, a contractor should check his (demolition) list twice.

Detroit’s largest demolition contractor is under investigation and faces suspension after it demolished the wrong home — and it’s not the first time that it happened.

The Adamo Group was given a $25,201 contract to demolish a fire-damaged house at 14461 Alma Ave. on June 18 — but misread the house number and in November razed the building at 14661 Alma Ave. instead. A similar mishap occurred in May last year.

The Detroit Building Authority Special Projects Director Brian Farkas confirmed to the Detroit Free Press the company is facing a minimum 90-day suspension from bidding, and that “Adamo was suspended for 90 days in May 2018 for a similar offense.”

An attorney for Adamo, which has collected over $58 million in federal and state-funded demolitions since 2014, declined comment.

Read more here.