Demolition dangers

  • 29 Nov 2013

Thanks to the cumbersome wrecking balls of yesteryear and the cavalier attitudes towards safety and the environment that came with them, the demolition industry has developed a stereotype as the poor relation to the construction sector. However, during the last few decades, a revolution has taken place within the industry which means that when today’s demolition contractors fulfil contracts where risks are managed, safety is paramount and environmental considerations are an integral part of the operation – no longer are demolition contractors that uncivilised uncle that is an unwanted but necessary requirement for redevelopments.

While most public sector decision makers will already have in place robust vetting procedures that are designed to select the most suitable contractor, the following factors may assist or even enhance that procurement process and go some way to ensuring the most suitable company is selected for any given contract.

In almost every tendering exercise we undertake for a public sector client, we are asked to demonstrate our competence by detailing previous experience. However, the experience we are required to demonstrate is not always the type of experience that the client should be focussing on. For example, we recently received a pre-qualification questionnaire for the demolition of a redundant industrial site and the remediation of the contaminated soils beneath. In my opinion, this is not a straightforward tender as not every demolition contractor has experience with soils remediation; I was looking forward to taking the opportunity to differentiate ourselves and demonstrate our diversity by detailing some of our experience in remediation. Unfortunately the vetting procedure failed to ask any relevant questions relating to this, focusing instead on what our experience with traffic management was. This was surprising as the site already had excellent transport links and I would not have foreseen that element of the works as being an issue. I would highly recommend to all clients, whether in the public or private sector, to take the time to recognise what they key risks and environmental challenges are for each project and ensure your tender process reflects these.

Many tenders use a system of point-scoring and weighting which places different emphases on separate aspects of the project. It is worth reviewing the scoring system used for individual tenders to ensure the weighting is appropriate for the tender in question. While the weighting and points allocated for non-demolition specific areas like equality are important, they should not unduly outweigh points allocated for bidders’ capability and experience.

This approach is particularly salient for tenders involving high levels of risk where, in the worst case, an applicant may have scored averagely in all levels but, because of incorrect weighting, subsequently wins the contract and is faced with a challenging demolition for which it lacks both the experience and capability to complete safely.

In the past we were awarded a contract to demolish an unsafe structure located in a busy high street. The structure was at risk of collapse and sandwiched next to occupied shops and the high street. We later discovered that the original scoring system had been revised at the last moment, and that a different contractor – one with no experience in the demolition of this type of unsafe structure – would have won, should that scoring system have remained in its original format. The client’s original scoring system placed three times the weighting on social values as it did previous experience.

I understand the public sector’s commitment to economic, environmental and social well-being but their weighting, in this instance, would have outweighed the contactor’s ability to maintain structural integrity during the demolition. Fortunately, this was recognised and changed at the last minute, but it did make me wonder how many other assessments were having questionable weighting applied.

There is a multitude of health and safety accreditations a demolition contractor can join to quickly demonstrate its competence to a potential buyer. Although the majority offer some form of recognition, when selecting a company to fulfil a demolition project, membership of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors (NFDC) is the best indication of professionalism and demolition-specific competence. Unlike some trade bodies, where you simply pay a subscription and wear the logo, the NFDC has a robust acceptance process which includes multiple audits, assessments and interviews.

All members are expected to abide by rules that encompass the Federation’s code of conduct which benchmarks standards of professional management, workmanship, courtesy and professionalism. These standards are upheld with regular site visits.

The Federation also controls the National Demolition Training Group and operates its own NVQ training centre. I strongly advocate the work the NFDC does, and I would highly recommend that if a buyer only had one influencing factor to decide by then the NFDC logo is a sure-fire failsafe.

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