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Demolition: a most modern industry

By Dr. Terry Quarmby. The NFDC provides an overview of the current state of the demolition industry and the challenges it faces...

The term 'demolition' to the layman, or if you prefer, the general public, can evoke such words as dirty, dangerous and demanding. The same words could also be applied to working as a scaffolder, steeplejack, miner, and even wild animal trainer. In reality, they may be none of those things given that each is performed by highly motivated, trained, knowledgeable, and experienced practitioners. The demolition industry, more than any other sector of British industry, has made enormous strides in occupational health, safety, the environment and methodology over the last 20 or so years. This is in no short measure to the effort given of the practitioners themselves, who have picked up the pace of improvement in both practical and academic achievements, and in meeting the challenges that modern day demolition projects demand.



If this sounds as though we are offering a huge thumbs-up for the sector, consider what the average demolition contractor has to deal with on a daily basis:

• The removal and disposal of all or any type of hazardous substance or material;

• The reduction and clearance of buildings and structures, ranging from simple single storey to complex multi-storey structures of steel, concrete, timber and, or, composite materials. These include working in any environment right across the board of industry, commerce, education, shipping, off shore, nuclear, oil, gas, etc;

• In addition, there is the requirement for segregation, identification, processing, disposal and or reclamation, recycling or re-use of waste materials and the supply of secondary aggregates to the construction and agricultural industries.

In fact, you name it and a demolition contractor has been there, done it, and got the proverbial t-shirt. If we might be starting to think that that's impressive, what will the layman make of taking down the modern iconic buildings of today and those of the future that will inevitably be jammed in between others, and reaching up 60 or more storeys?

To accomplish many of the activities a demolition contractor and his operatives undertake requires a dedication that is not common with other types of industry. Those who work and live the business are

generally in it for the long term with some companies having 3 or more generations of the same family involved.

The 2 main organisations representing the sector are the National Federation of Demolition Contractors (NFDC) and the Institute of Demolition Engineers (IDE). The former organisation represents industry trade and is the corporate body, and the latter provides competence and information levels to the individual practitioners. The NDFC has 170 corporate members who undertake approximately 95% of the demolition work carried out in the UK today. The IDE has 350 members whose occupations encompass the whole range of activities associated with the industry sector.

In addition to these bodies, the National Demolition Training Group (NDTG) administered by industry practitioners, and based alongside the NFDC at their Hemel Hempstead offices, provides the main thrust for operative and manager training with bespoke training and assessment schemes unique to the sector. The NDTG is recognised for its efficiency and expertise by the enforcing authorities and the larger construction industry that award much of the work carried out by contractors. This is an industry that owes much to the expertise of its workforce, as the necessity to adapt and change to such diverse working environments is unlike any other traditional workplace

Over 20 or so years, the mode of working has swung from manual to machine operations employing an equally diverse range of equipment. Such equipment in use today is invariably bespoke and manufactured by the worlds leading manufacturers. Visitors to a modern demolition site will be witness to robotic, high reach and traditional rigged machines, as well as a full range of mini, micro and materials handling plant. Gone are the days when a demolition contractor's plant and equipment left much to be desired, it now stands on an equal footing and/or betters that of the constructors.

A relatively new initiative for NFDC in particular, is the production of industry guidance that is targeted to address many of the issues relevant only to the demolition sector. The importance of this process

cannot be marginalised if one considers that all previous types of guidance have been produced for the greater construction or building industry and have had to be adapted to fit the needs of this sector. Whether legislation can also be produced as bespoke to the demolition industry is a matter of conjecture, but major changes could be on the way to re-position demolition as part of the waste industry rather than construction. With the legal definition of waste describing that which has been discarded or intended to be discarded as waste, there can be little doubt that demolition contractors are waste handlers not constructors.

So what is the future for the demolition industry? What can practitioners and the public expect of this sector that has shown how adaptable and innovative it can be? Well, for starters, contractors will continue to demand the best that manufacturers can produce, and that the plant and equipment of the future will almost certainly be electronically and robotically controlled, and even wearable by operatives forfinger tip control having little or none of the vibration or ergonomic problems associated with manual handling of materials and tools. New processes for the actual demolition and processing of structures will come on stream with microwave technology a front runner, having been proved in controlled tests to be extremely effective in breaking concrete, brick, stone and mortars. Laser demolition has also be trialled on concrete and proved to be equally effective, and if both types of technology can be properly

harnessed and made safe, it would revolutionise the way we manage materials handling. However, addressing the practicalities of the operational processes can only be truly efficient if all other aspects have been reviewed and adjusted to maximise performance. The demolition industry has proved how adaptable it can be in terms of recycling, but it continues to struggle to maximise a once flourishing salvage and re-use market that has diminished year on year.

This malady is as a result of poor quality building materials currently removed during demolition in which many are manmade composites with no resale or re-use value, and are invariably costly to dispose of. Recognising that recycling opportunities are waning for what were traditional building materials such as stone and brick, with the increasing use of composites, foams, laminates and other potentially hazardous mixtures, the NFDC have developed an interactive materials identification and recycling tool – DRIDS. The DRIDS system uses cutting edge internet technology to ensure that all possible demolition materials are not only effectively identified, but outlets are also efficiently sourced geographically to reduce transportations costs.

In the respect of salvage and reclaim, the future will continue to look bleak unless end of life cycle philosophy is engaged to ensure that these issues are addressed at the inception of a new development. Life cycle costing should be evaluated not only for energy efficiency and a reduction of carbon usage during the build, use and maintenance periods, but right through to end of life and the demolition or dismantling of the structure. DRIDS will at least, for the foreseeable future, provide the demolition contractor an industry toolbox and opportunity to ensure recycling levels are maintained. Developers, architects and product designers may wish to use the Government's built environment initiative, Building Information Modelling (BIM) to address end of life cycle assessments and to develop a greater understanding of the value of 'design for deconstruction'.

This should also help to galvanise change and focus perceptions of waste as being a commodity and not a cost.


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The prospect of demolition works can seem highly disruptive to clients and neighbours however Dorton have in my experience approached their projects in a professional, calm and thoughtful manner and with the minimum of impact.

Gardiner & Theobald