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Reaching the heights of safety


In an already heavily regulated sector the demolition industry finds itself hit by more legislation this month.

Will contractors need to change working practice to accommodate the changes? Paul Thompson reports

FATALITY figures for 2004-2005 from the Health and Safety Executive make grim reading.Of the 70 workers that left home for work never to return last year, almost half were killed by falls from height, a shameful figure in the 21st century.

The demolition industry has done more than most sectors to help improve its record in the league of shame and new legislation brought in last week should help this progress continue.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 firm up previous legislation and also bring in minimum health and safety requirements for the use of equipment.

Although the regulations place new requirements on contractors they are not too far removed from the self-regulation that more discerning demolition contractors have been working on for years, From now on duty holders must ensure that all work at height is properly planned and organised; that those involved in working at height are competent to do so; that risk assessment is carried out and appropriate plant to carry out the work is used; and that plant and equipment is properly inspected and maintained.

All pretty obvious, and innovations in techniques and equipment over recent years have meant that reputable demolition contractors can easily meet the requirements.

Long-reach machines, boom-access platforms and remote working plant have helped take risk out of the demolition business and ensured that the old bang-and-smash days are well and truly gone.

'Demolition has smartened up its act over the past 10 years, ' says Mike Cuddy, joint managing director of the Cuddy Group.'Advances in technology have helped.'

And that polished, more professional approach has not been lost on clients.

'These days demolition contractors are far slicker in their planning and engineering than they used to be, ' says Paul Sims, Bovis Lend Lease project director.'The move toward deconstruction rather than demolition has made larger projects more labour-intensive but not to the detriment of safety.'

But one area where the role of a contractor may need to change thanks to the regulations is that of early project involvement.

Closer working between the contractor and the client will help boost safety on site, improve working conditions and bring sites more closely in line with the new regulations.

'If a demolition contractor is involved in the early stages of the planning process, ' says John Freely, managing director of Manchester-based demolition contractor J Freely, 'demolition techniques can be planned and implemented to fulfil the needs of the client and ensure health and safety regulations are complied with without compromising the safety of operatives, the general public or adjacent building occupants.'

According to Mr Freely many client design teams believe that hand demolition of tall structures is the safest option but this is often not the case.

He claims the new regulations will help clients realise the ease and safety of machine demolition.

'Hand demolition is often stipulated by the design team as a matter of course in tender documents, particularly where the site is close to occupied buildings or where there are issues of pedestrian safety, ' he says.

'But this is often unnecessary and can pose safety problems to those operatives who are working at height.

'Advanced demolition techniques, including the latest machines incorporating pulverisers and selector grabs, mean that careful demolition at height can take place by machine without compromising the safety of operatives in any way.'

And the safety of its workforce should always be paramount to any contractor.