Is it because it takes place behind huge hoardings and away from prying eyes? Is it because the industry lives in the shadow of the larger and more vocal construction sector and doesn’t often shout and crow about its own accomplishments in quite the same way? Or is it, perhaps, the fact that the mainstream media only acknowledges the sector’s existence in the event of a large explosive contract or when something goes awry?
Whatever the reason, the demolition industry is wildly misunderstood by the public, by the media, and even by those working in associated sectors that are close enough to know better.
To this day, there is a perception that demolition companies roam the countryside blowing up buildings or knocking them down with wrecking balls; that demolition men and women are uneducated and fit for nothing else; that demolition sites are filthy and filled with risk and danger; and that the demolition process is purely destructive.
So let’s take a look at each of those points as we demystify demolition:
TNT and Wrecking Balls — Demolition doesn’t blow things up; it blows them down in a controlled manner that ensures that the structure — a tower block or bridge, perhaps — falls within its own footprint to minimise impact and damage to neighbouring structures. Furthermore, although media coverage and Hollywood movies would have you believe differently, explosive demolition represents just a tiny proportion of all the demolition work that takes place around the world each year. In addition, wrecking balls haven’t been used in anger on a UK demolition site for something like 30 years (although they are still a mainstay in some parts of the US demolition sector). It doesn’t make for great TV but the vast majority of demolition today is carried out using sophisticated and clean-running equipment (primarily excavators) equipped with a multitude of work tools and attachments that can break, crack, munch, pulverise and cut materials to demolish a structure in a controlled manner and to facilitate more efficient recycling.
Uneducated — It is tempting to perceive demolition men and women as knuckle-dragging Neanderthals that dropped out of school early and could, therefore, find no better career path. The fact is that the demolition business is filled with smart, intelligent and dynamic people. It is a legal requirement to take a training course before you’re even allowed onto a demolition site in the first place. As a demolition worker progresses up the career ladder, each new role is accompanied by further training and an associated competence card that proves and verifies that a specific skill level has been achieved. The demolition industry even has its own degree course that places demolition professionals on a par with their construction and civil engineering contemporaries.
A hazardous environment — There is no denying that a demolition site is fraught with risks and potential dangers. But, in truth, the demolition industry’s safety record puts to shame that of the much larger construction sector. Risk assessments are art and parcel of the modern demolition industry, which means that potential risks are identified long before they become a danger. The industry is highly trained and highly regulated, which has also helped make the sector increasingly safe. And over the past 30 years or so, the industry has embraced the use of methodologies and equipment that have mostly removed workers from harm’s way.
Dirty & Destructive — Here in the UK, we have finite space and finite resources. For anything of any note to be built usually requires something to be demolished in the first place; partly to make space for the new structure but also to provide some of the materials to be used in that new structure. Demolition is not focused upon destruction. Rather, it facilitates construction. The demolition industry is a world leader in the field of materials recycling, repurposing and reuse. In fact, it is not unusual for a UK demolition contract to recycle upwards of 98 percent of all materials. Make no mistake, demolition comes with its fair share of mud and dust. But the fact is that demolition is cleaner — environmentally — than just about any comparable industry sector.
The media might like to portray demolition as a rough, tough hazardous business that walks a fine line between the legal and the illegal. It serves the media narrative to perpetuate the myth that demolition folk have not progressed from the days of Fred Dibnah; that demolition is short-hand for death, dirt and destruction; that there is little that can’t be cured with some well-aimed TNT.
The fact is that modern demolition possesses all the skills found in construction and civil engineering. A modern demolition company carries all the same accreditations as those found within the construction business. We now live in the age of the blue chip demolition firm. Demolition men and women are highly trained highly skilled and highly regulated; and they could teach just about any industry a thing or two about the recycling of materials. Most importantly, demolition is the first step towards the new. If you’re reading this in a house or in an office, the chances are that the building around you was made possible by demolition.
Mark Anthony is founder of DemolitionNews.com