Coleman & Company’s managing director Mark Coleman has defended his firm’s suitability to carry out demolition at Didcot Power Station in the wake of a major building collapse that left one worker dead and three more missing.
More from: Mark Coleman: 'This must never happen again'
In an exclusive interview with Construction News, Mr Coleman said that not having previously worked on a power station made his team even more conscious of the risks involved.
“That knowledge and experience that comes out, good, bad or indifferent, has to be brought into best practice”
Mark Coleman, Coleman & Co
“I’m not a newbie to the industry,” he said. “Through the 50-plus years of the development of this business, clearly on day one we’re not knocking down power stations. You use your expertise, your experience and you grow the business. And that’s all we’ve ever done.”
Mr Coleman said the company had set about winning power station work as a strategic business objective before beginning work with client RWE on detailed proposals for the demolition of Didcot A Power Station in March 2012.
He said the firm had picked up knowledge and expertise by pricing other power station demolition jobs before being appointed to the Didcot project by RWE, with a two-year staged procurement process also helping to manage the risks involved.
“We had an early works agreement, an eight-month contract to carry out full-time management, investigation, planning, safety, development of systems and procedures, design, analysis, checking, testing – on site, on that power station,” he said. “It was unprecedented – I’ve never heard of that before, for that type of work.”
Mr Coleman admitted he is worried about reputational damage following the disaster, but said clients have rallied round to express support.
Mark Coleman MD Coleman & Co
One major client has even awarded Coleman & Company a “multi-million-pound high-profile complex job” in a “safety-critical industry” since the incident, he said.
National Federation of Demolition Contractors chief executive Howard Button said the firm’s lack of previous power station experience, as highlighted by other sections of the media, is “totally irrelevant”.
He said: “They’ve carried out precision work at Birmingham [New Street], taking out huge concrete beams over live tracks, they’ve taken down various other major structures. To say that they can’t handle a power station because they haven’t actually done one before is a bit silly.”
Part of the boiler house at Didcot A Power Station collapsed just after 4pm on Tuesday 23 February. The cause of the collapse is still unknown.
The boiler house was being prepped for explosive demolition at the time of the incident, with a blowdown originally scheduled for 5 March.
The team was “pre-weakening” the structure, according to Mr Coleman, and “preparing the legs for putting the explosives in”.
One Coleman & Company employee, named on Friday as Michael Collings, 53, was killed in the incident.
Didcot Power Station collapse_PA-25616240
At the time of writing, three more Coleman & Company employees were missing in the debris of the collapsed building, with police now describing the search operation as a “recovery of the bodies”.
Thames Valley Police warned that the search could take “many, many weeks” and have previously said it is “highly unlikely” that the three missing men will be found alive. Five other people were taken to hospital on the day of the incident with serious injuries; four were direct employees of Coleman & Company, while the other worked for explosives specialist Robinson & Birdsell, which was on site working with Coleman to prepare the boiler house for explosive demolition.
“I’ve seen their systems at work – they’re one of the safest companies out there”
Howard Button, NFDC
All five have since been released from hospital.
Mr Coleman said he understood why families of the four workers killed or missing since last week would express their anger at the company. “I totally, totally understand,” he said.
“I’ve said to our guys – we are physical punchbags and we’ve got to take it. [The families] have got to be able to let that out, whether it’s at the press, us or whoever.”
Didcot Power Station collapse rescue operation 010316 2
Other contractors and competitors have offered support to the company since the incident, with the NFDC’s Mr Button describing them as a “gold-plated” member of the federation. “When I heard it was Coleman I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I’ve seen their systems at work – they’re one of the safest companies out there.
“It’s unbelievable that it could have happened to a company of that ilk. It’s an unprecedented incident in the federation – we’ve not had such a bad disaster in living memory.”
“We’re trying to learn from it, and I hope a lot of people do learn from it. You start asking yourself: what impact is it going to have on the industry?”
Richard Dolman, AR Demolition
A director at a rival demolition contractor who did not wish to be named said that Coleman & Company was “very competent”, adding: “Coleman is a good company. I’m sure they’re doing it in a proper manner.”
Richard Dolman, managing director of AR Demolition and a council member at the Institute of Demolition Engineers, said: “My reaction was surprise and then sadness, disbelief.
“There are companies that are all fur coat and no knickers and I don’t think Coleman is one of them. It’s just bloody sad that there will be people pointing fingers already.”
Didcot Power Station collapse rescue operation 010316 army search robot 2
In a week in which safety was once again on the agenda after a construction worker died on Mace’s BBC Television Centre site, Mr Coleman has called on the industry to learn from the incident at Didcot to ensure that it “never, ever happens again”.
He said that it was “hugely important” that whatever went wrong “isn’t hidden”.
He said: “That knowledge and that experience that comes out of it, good, bad or indifferent, has to come out, as it has to be brought into best practice to ensure that this never, ever happens again.”
The director at a major demolition contractor echoed the sentiment, saying that the whole industry “needs to learn”.
“You can’t stop what’s happened – you have to make sure people get smarter at doing things going forward,” he said. “To me, clients, designers, main contractors and specialists all need to learn from the incident.”
Didcot Power Station collapse_PA-25616722
Mr Dolman said: “We’re trying to learn from it, and I hope a lot of people do learn from it. You start asking yourself: what impact is it going to have on the industry? It’s not going to be great for our industry in any way, shape or form.”
The search for the missing workers continues at the Didcot site, with the operation complicated by the remaining standing structure, which is at risk of collapse, and the large pile of debris on the ground.
Rescue teams have been on site since the incident. They have been using sniffer dogs, drones and thermal imaging cameras, and liaising with multiple emergency services teams, including the army, to search the site.
In a statement on Tuesday (1 March), Thames Valley Police assistant chief constable Scott Chilton said: “The recovery of the bodies and site investigation will be a very complex operation and I envisage it will be many, many weeks before it is completed.
“I know that this makes it particularly difficult for the families involved, as they await the recovery of their loved ones. Our priority remains to return them to their families and we continue to support the families as needed.”
Exclusive: Didcot demolition contractor defends role