Demolition climbs the learning curve
The demolition industry continues to retain its public image as the home of big excavators and even bigger explosions. But behind the rough, tough exterior, an educational revolution is taking place, according to DemolitionNews editor Mark Anthony.
It says much about the changing face of the UK demolition industry when the National Demolition Training Group (NDTG) – formerly the slightly geeky cousin of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors – has been thrust into the spotlight.
With a new training standard agreed with the UK Contractors Group, a new book to help industry newcomers identify and assess potential site hazards, and a new chairman at the helm following a surprise election, the NDTG is currently enjoying unprecedented levels of attention and exposure.
The recent NDTG annual general meeting – traditionally little more than a formality – was thrown into turmoil when chairman-in-waiting Richard Comley was forced to decline the opportunity to take his rightful place at the helm due to health issues. A hastily organised ballot saw AR Demolition’s Richard Dolman take the top job with Comley staying on as vice chairman.
Dolman’s unexpected election comes at a time of transition for the NDTG. Despite swingeing cuts to grant funding, the NDTG enjoyed its busiest ever year in 2011, delivering well over 30,000 training hours and qualifying more than 4,200 CCDO card holders.
The training group also developed and delivered new training courses across the entire demolition spectrum from operatives to company directors, and a new demolition manager course proved particularly successful, attracting 50 successful candidates.
“We are just a matter of weeks away from introducing an e-learning programme to facilitate distance learning,” says training group manager Sophie Francis. “And, perhaps the most significant step forward is the agreement reached between the NDTG, NFDC and the UK Contractors Group that sees demolition qualifications recognised in their own right as part of a new universal training standard.”
That standard is designed to support UKCG’s work in increasing competency and improving leadership in health and safety by developing knowledge and skill, and marks an impressive achievement by the NFDC and NDTG in safeguarding recognition of demolition specific training standard across the wider construction industry.
“This is a fantastic step in getting demolition training standards recognised on construction sites across the length and breadth of the UK,” says NDTG chairman Richard Dolman.
The NFDC has been no slouch in the advancement of learning either. During the past 12 months, the federation has published guidance documents covering topics including mobile crushers, high rise structures, and and high reach excavators. The latter is backed by a new high reach excavator training course, developed by the NFDC and NDTG, which is the first of its kind in the world.
“The new guidance on high reach excavators is far more comprehensive than the original, published five years ago, and is now backed by a bespoke training course designed to take operators experienced to working heights of 15 metres right up to 30 metres,” says NFDC chief executive Howard Button. “The course is the first of its kind in the world and is a vital step in safeguarding demolition operatives working in and around these huge machines.”
Matters of education and training are also taxing the Institute of Demolition Engineers (IDE) which has threatened to exclude as much as 15 percent of its members for their failure to satisfy the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements of membership.
The IDE debacle over CPD points is reminiscent of the NFDC’s firm stance over its Accredited Site Audit Scheme (ASAS), an independent audit of all aspects of a demolition site that covers everything from working practices through to administration processes and paperwork.
Three years on, ASAS is recognised as an industry standard in its own right, and has been cross-mapped with the Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP) system.
The next big challenges concern asbestos handling plus health and safety. “The changes to the Control of Asbestos Regulations scheduled for April this year will place additional demands upon demolition contractors to provide very specific training for any workers likely to encounter asbestos during the course of their work,” Howard Button insists. “But as the Regulations are still at the consultation stage, it is currently impossible to ascertain just what those additional demands might be.”
To prepare NFDC and NDTG members and clients for those changes, the Federation will be hosting the latest of its Demolition Day seminars at the Sage Centre in Gateshead on 16 May.
That event will also address perhaps the most taxing challenge facing UK demolition contractors at present; the imminent introduction of the Health and Safety Executive’s cost recovery scheme.
A new stealth tax?
The HSE is about to lob a hand grenade into the demolition sector in the form of the new cost recovery scheme.
Those within the demolition industry - for whom an HSE inspection is an occupational hazard - agree that the hefty bill for policing industrial safety should be met, at least in part, by those that break the rules and put the lives of workers and the public at risk.
So when the Health and Safety Executive published a consultation paper on its proposed cost recovery scheme, there was barely a dissenting ripple.
But now, as more details of the scheme and its likely charges become public, there is growing concern among UK contractors that the scheme could be the first step on the road to the privatisation of the HSE.
Of course, the headline impact is one of likely cost. Although the HSE says that the cost recovery scheme is still subject to consultation, a figure of £133 per hour (payable in 30 days) seems just a little too precise to be an estimate. Likewise, the £750 cost of an inspection that results in a letter and the £1,500 for an inspection that results in an Enforcement Notice sounds less like a consultation and more like a fait accompli.
If that is the case, then the cost of investigations - expected to range from approximately £750 through to several thousands of pounds to, in extreme cases, tens of thousands of pounds - is the stuff of nightmares for any company falling foul of constantly changing health and safety rules and regulations. And there is no suggestion of any cost ceiling in the scheme.
“I believe that the NFDC and NDTG has demonstrated its commitment to worker safety with the levels of training it is now delivering. But I am also mindful that the introduction of a cost recovery scheme could be the thin end of the wedge,” says Howard Button.
“If the scheme is used purely to penalise those that transgress health and safety laws, then we would support the scheme wholeheartedly. Our concern, however, is that it will be used purely to replenish the Government’s depleted coffers.”
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This article was published on 21 Mar 2012 (last updated on 22 Mar 2012).