Author Archives: Katie Mallinson

Stakeholder engagement – a job for PR or a core project element?

As part of his regular column for Demolition and Recycling International, RVA’s managing director, Richard Vann, penned his thoughts on stakeholder engagements and whether this should be a job for PR or a core project element for the demolition team.

If you missed the article, you can read it in full here…

It might be a bold claim, but in no way is it an exaggeration – one of the most important elements of a modern demolition project now, has nothing to do with the actual demolition works themselves.

I’m talking about stakeholder engagement – the practice of communicating with any individual or group who may be affected, to any degree, by a demolition assignment.

There was a time of course where there was something of a disregard for the need to engage with anyone other than the client. Contractors boldly turned up on site driven by the mindset that they were simply there to do a job. Most were unaware of the need to do anything any different.

But even if projects were executed exactly in line with the brief, on time and with no reportable accidents or injuries, this did not mean the works would unfold with no bad feeling. Neighbours would complain about site traffic, environmental groups would worry about the disruption to wildlife, and the controlled use of explosives..? Well, let’s just say in the absence of knowledge, pre-blast information and updates, many residents didn’t take too kindly to ‘buildings being blown up in the village’.

Now, any demolition professional worth their salt will adopt a far more collaborative stance to working with stakeholders.

Yes, legislation has driven this change. Gone are the days when a foreman could stand in the street with his stop sign to enforce a road closure, for example. And environmental regulations now better protect local habitats ranging from bats and birds to neighbours’ fish ponds.

But truly consulting with stakeholders – asking them questions and understanding their concerns to shape a project, rather than simply telling them what is going to happen – is also inherently the right thing to do. The duty of care element is undeniable.

Now, as part of the long-term planning of a demolition programme, consultants and/or contractors will enter into dialogue with a number of interested parties, ranging from the Environment Agency to pressure groups, and local authorities to schools and community groups.

Ecology surveys are now routinely carried out for instance, so that project schedules can be adjusted and/or methodologies fine-tuned to avoid disturbing nesting birds. Contractors visit schools to speak to make health and safety fun, while educating children about the dangers of trespassing on demolition sites. Vehicular movements are carefully coordinated so that heavy plant does not move materials off site during peak hours when the roads are busy with school traffic. Even communication with a client’s workforce – who are commonly facing redundancy as a result of demolition works – has to be thoughtfully managed.

These little details can make or break a project. After all, demolition engineers are often the first visible team on a site, before a much larger scheme such as a regeneration development begins. Poor stakeholder management in the earliest phase will set the tone for the entire duration of works, long after the demolition works are complete. The legacy issues could be vast. It’s no wonder considerate contractor schemes are now widely recognised and have even created a sense of healthy competition between firms.

Stakeholder engagement is all about creating harmonious relationships for both the immediate and long term. It is every bit as important as planning a hazardous materials survey or commencing the piecemeal dismantling of a valuable asset. It cannot be simply the responsibility of one or two site managers – it must be a mindset shared by all personnel. Efforts will be undone, for example, if colleagues staying over in a local area go out at night and behave irresponsibly – irrespective of the safe and considerate nature of works on-site.

And all of this before we consider the financial impact – poor stakeholder relations often result in reputational damage, which impacts share prices, bottom line and future prospects.

So, aside from a contractor’s duty of care and legislative obligations, poor stakeholder relations also act as a significant distraction. For the standing of the entire supply chain, not to mention the safe execution of the project, this engagement exercise therefore needs to be front and centre from day one.


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RVA’s Richard Vann to chair global decommissioning conference

RVA Group’s managing director Richard Vann has been invited to chair the 3rd Annual Global Decommissioning and Demolition of Fossil Fuel Power Plants Conference, when it takes place in Prague next March.

Bringing together experienced engineers, project managers, asset owners and more, the high-profile event seeks to share knowledge on an array of decommissioning topics including programme options for end of life plants, the controlled use of explosives, the demolition project lifecycle and site redevelopment – to name just a few subjects.

RVA is no stranger to this event. At the 2018 conference, RVA’s operations director Matthew Waller delivered a 45-minute session on how to maximise decommissioning preparedness following a power station closure, and strategic development director Ian Wharton spoke to delegates about how to establish and maintain EHS excellence.

For the upcoming energy-sector conference, managing director Richard will chair all sessions over the two days.

“As an increasing number of fossil fuel power plants reach their end of life worldwide, asset owners and operators are left with a plethora of complex questions to answer,” he said. “Events such as this provide an important platform to share knowledge, insight and experiences, and play a significant role in ensuring the safe, cost-effective and environmentally sound execution of decommissioning projects.”

As past president of both the Institute of Demolition Engineers and the Institute of Explosives Engineers, Richard was also part of a peer-group of contributors who produced the current version of BS5607: Code of Practice for Safe Use of Explosives in the Construction Industry. He has worked within the decommissioning sector for over 35 years.

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How do you dismantle a chemical plant for re-erection at the other side of the world?

Our managing director, Richard Vann, recently spoke with The Chemical Engineer and explored what is involved in the dismantling of a chemical plant for re-erection at the other side of the world.

In case you missed the article, you can read it in full here…

A decommissioning project may represent the end of a chemical plant’s useful life for one operator, but there are occasions when assets can be carefully salvaged, dismantled and reinserted into the global supply chain.

As the world of chemical engineering advances apace, the market continues to pose both newfound pressures and opportunities for operators across the globe. Consequently, the number of decommissioning projects being planned on an international scale, is vast. Arguably, it could even be at an all-time high. However, the catalysts for this level of activity, are varied.

Some chemical plants, particularly those constructed in the 1960s and 70s, have simply reached the end of their design life – certainly in the Western Hemisphere. They therefore present too many inefficiencies – not to mention safety and reputational risks – to warrant ongoing operation.

Others have effectively reached their ‘sell-by-date’ as a result of evolving HSE/EHS legislation and compliance standards, so they must be decommissioned and ring-fenced if operators are to remain on the right side of the law.

Economics have a role to play too, but markets are extremely fragmented – it would be naïve to assume there is only one, single global trend. We only have to look at India for example, and the number of assets being transferred out to this emerging economy, to see that growth is ongoing here. There is often an additional driver to move production closer to the end-user to mitigate unit cost, time and impact on the environment.

This geographical variance is often the reason why some plants are dismantled for re-erection. Whilst a facility may have reached the end of its useful life for one chemical manufacturer, it may still have operational potential elsewhere.  In some cases, a second-hand plant is used as a stop-gap measure by a client to get to market quickly, for example, whilst a more modern and efficient plant is being constructed.

The sequential dismantling of these inherently hazardous facilities is naturally very complex, with multifaceted variables affecting whether the project can be executed safely, without any environmental concerns, and with a commercially viable outcome. But the important thing to note, is that it is possible.

A 5,000-mile journey to Azerbaijan

RVA has completed more than 770 decommissioning projects over the past 27 years, across virtually every continent in the world. Whilst the driver for every assignment has varied on a case by case basis, less than 1% of these projects have seen clients’ sites cleared completely and assets carefully dismantled for re-erection at a remote location.

For a project with the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), however, it was RVA’s dismantling expertise that was sought, so that a plant could be carefully stripped down and reused at the other side of the world.

Appointed by European Petroleum Consultancy (EPC), who ran the overall contract, RVA provided project management, technical engineering and EHS advice for the six-month duration of the works.

The global energy leader wanted to relocate a mothballed polypropylene manufacturing facility from Quebec in Eastern Canada, to Azerbaijan. This demanding assignment required the decontamination, laser scanning, match-marking, physical separation, preservation, precise cataloguing and packing of the plant, so that it could be meticulously reassembled.

Maintaining the operational integrity of every component was of course critical, as failure to correctly administer this process, could have resulted in this highly valuable manufacturing resource becoming nothing more than scrap metal.

Devising the plan

Before any such project can begin on a chemical plant, an impartial, bespoke feasibility and option study should be drawn up.

Often beginning with exploratory management workshops that help to triangulate the sector- and plant-specific insight of the operator – as well as the specialist engineering experience of a decommissioning expert – these studies provide an objective, clear and realistic view as to the true liability or opportunity of the project.

EHS, commercial and financial factors associated with the site are all considered. This means assessing achievable costs, the quantity and location of residual materials, metallurgy and exotic material content, contamination levels, other potential hazards and risks, permit surrenders, the availability of drawings, the processes that were actioned when closing the plant, any waste management obligations, required resources, relevant legislation, and programming constraints.

It would be impossible to plan a project, in its entirety, without the findings of this initial data-driven exercise. For SOCAR’s dismantling assignment, the planning phase took several months.

The decontamination challenge

Before any decontamination works can begin, the condition of a chemical facility has to be rigorously audited. It is important to gather and interpret as much information as possible, about the type and level of hazardous material contaminations, as well as the cleanliness and structural integrity of the assets. This helps to ensure that appropriately-skilled personnel – equipped with the necessary PPE – can then be appointed to undertake the decontamination exercise, with minimum risk.

The objective should not be to over-clean materials so that they are completely contaminant-free. Instead, the goal is typically to take assets to a ‘known state’ that removes as many uncertainties as possible and satisfies the degree of cleanliness required for the given project.

If the asset is to be demolished for scrap, for instance, the priority would be to decontaminate the plant so that, as a minimum, it meets regulatory requirements and prevents hazardous materials such as chemical residue, from entering the recyclable waste chain.

With the SOCAR project, the environmental management plan had to further consider the decontamination regime additionally mandated for safe international shipment of the disassembled plant.

Plant disassembly

Once sufficiently cleaned, every individual component part of the plant was match-marked with unique codes for ease and accuracy of reconstruction. Some of the components were sent to specialist companies for refurbishment and certification.

A high-degree of manual dismantling techniques were then deployed to physically and precisely disassemble the assets over a six-month period. Every component was carefully packed with accompanying drawings to aid the reassembly works at the destined location of Baku. It was also important to preserve the integrity of the 1,000 tonnes of materials during shipment, so that the plant could make the 5,000-mile journey without damage.

Geographical complexities

With any decommissioning works involving the international transfer of plant – irrespective of geography or the specifics of the assignment – safety and environmental considerations are paramount from the outset.

Whilst most countries adhere to similar ethical and legislative benchmarks, there are naturally varying international and even regional nuances to the standards adopted. Works must therefore comply with the regulation, documentation and certification rules of the plant’s origination and destination locations.

The removal of hazardous materials including asbestos and other insulators, is regulated differently in Canada to the UK, for example. So, to ensure best practice and maximum peace of mind when undertaking any high-hazard project of this nature, legislative parameters are only ever considered as setting the very minimum criteria. This is because the objective of any responsible decommissioning professional should be to  not only meet legislative compliance but to take EHS management to the highest achievable level..

Canada also represented a new geographical territory for RVA and time differences added to the exacting nature of the project. With RVA engineers visiting Quebec – coordinating expertise with a specialist team back in the UK – careful planning was essential to maintain effective dialogue throughout.

Finding a plant buyer

Whilst this SOCAR project proves that chemical manufacturing equipment can be carefully dismantled for re-erection elsewhere, such a route map is not always commercially feasible, especially if a prospective end user is not immediately apparent, and/or a third party is sought to buy the assets. The process is often easier to actualise if the facility is transferred to an operator within the same group.

When RVA was engaged to oversee the decontamination, demolition and dismantling of a manufacturing facility on an 11-hectare site on Jurong Island, Singapore, for example, selected plant items were carefully recovered so that they could be transferred to the owner’s sister plants worldwide.

This project was bound by tight timescales, given a commercial driver for the client to exit the site within defined lease and permit parameters. The work was therefore planned sequentially with designated demolition areas handed over in a carefully phased manner. Potential sources of ignition were subject to strict controls, due to the nature of the chemicals housed nearby and the presence of some units which had to remain operational during the initial stages of the programme.

Here, again, local standards were adopted as a regulatory compliance base for this project. However, global industry best practice was the non-negotiable benchmark for the demolition contractor’s EHS regimes and technical methodologies. Delivering this approach can represent challenges – not least due to cultural differences and language barriers – so effective personnel relations, awareness training and communication were therefore key.

If an external buyer is sought for a chemical asset, the completion of a mutually attractive deal is admittedly rare. The costs of refurbishing and relocating the plant – on top of fees associated with the baseline decommissioning works themselves – soon eat into any potential project margin. Delays incurred whilst trying to find a buyer and negotiate, will also contribute to excessive site security, maintenance, leasing, permit and other holding costs, which further erodes any revenue generation potential.  The fact that many plants are considered ‘old technology’ also reduces the chances of negotiating a deal that is commercially attractive to all parties.

This is why it is crucial that the ‘sale for reuse’ avenue should carefully be considered and in most cases seen as a ‘plan B’, as it cannot be confidently relied upon as a guaranteed route for the facility.

Other options

The feasibility and options study outlined earlier is, essentially, a modelling exercise designed to explore all possible project scenarios and generate value-adding management information that means a chemical operator does not enter into a decommissioning exercise ‘blind’.

Often the eventual selected route may not have been considered or even deemed possible by the client, perhaps due to false perceptions of the associated financial burden. But the studies will provide sufficient data and confidence to pursue a specific strategy. Ideally, this exercise would begin before the plant has even closed, although obviously this is not always possible.

Whilst the potential route maps will vary from site to site, options include:

  • The complete clearance of a chemical facility, which is often the most straightforward exercise. This is because, from a technical perspective, a full clearance usually only requires a global or battery limits isolation strategy. In simple terms, the plant is usually rendered ‘cold and dark’ so that, once residual hazards have been removed, all structures can then be demolished for scrap and the site taken back to flat slab, or, as the project examples outline above, assets can be dismantled for resale and re-erection.
  • The selective removal of assets, perhaps to facilitate a retrofitting assignment that will enable a site’s footprint to be optimised. Whilst extremely complex in nature – especially if the wider facility remains operational throughout – retrofitting is possible. It must be acknowledged however, that the challenges are multiple and multifaceted. Options are often limited, and certainly more intricate, due to the presence of live common services, adjacent hazardous processes, neighbouring vehicular/pedestrian movements, more extensive stakeholder requirements and the shared nature of facilities. Even the isolation strategy is far more difficult. With potentially thousands of cables, pipes and services to consider, the impact of an under-planned localised isolation philosophy could be catastrophic. The ‘best case’ scenario may be business interruption, whilst in more extreme circumstances the likelihood of a serious safety, environmental or commercial reputation incident should not be underestimated. An experienced team with retrofitting expertise should therefore be sought for such schemes.
  • The extensive mothballing of an entire facility, or specific assets, to ensure the optimal chance of preservation.
  • A combination of the above, with nuances of project scheduling, timescales, activity sequencing and safety management of course apparent from facility to facility.

The goal – for any chemical facility – should always be to maximise the return on assets where possible and safe to do so. However, factors such as plant age, former processes, recovery cost, testing, market forces and commercial competition, will all form part of the decision as to what should happen next.




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What would I say to a 16-year-old looking at a career in demolition?

As part of a regular column for Demolition & Recycling International, RVA Group’s managing director Richard Vann, recently looked back in time at what a job in demolition was like when he was 16 – and what a role in the industry entails now.

 If you missed the piece, you can read it here…

It may be an obvious statement to make – as every profession inevitably changes over time – but a career in demolition now looks significantly different to how it did when I was 16.

Gone are the days of an itinerant workforce, waiting to be picked up at a bus stop for cash-in-hand work that would tide them over for a few days. Demolition was something of a dirty word back then. It wasn’t considered to offer a serious career path – it was simply a job for people who didn’t have many other options. Or perhaps, for a select few, their father had worked in the industry before them.

There was no formal training, and certainly nothing like CPD. You’d climb a chimney one day, learn how to operate an excavator the next, and then move on to be a wagon banksman.

Fast forward to 2019 and things have – thankfully – evolved considerably.

Whilst demolition is not yet perfect – but then again, what is – an ambassadorial stance amongst industry professionals has served to stamp out unsavoury practices. International conferences now seek to shine a light on best practice, and knowledge transfer is commonplace. Formalised training options are plentiful, and potential career paths are rich and varied.

So, what would I say to a 16-year-old starting out in this industry?

Firstly, I’d ask them what it is about demolition that interests them? Of all the engineering disciplines they could go into, why this one? These reasons and subsequent discussions could shape their future, so it’s important to acknowledge the drivers for their intended career.

Whilst it is a small and specialist area of civil engineering, there are many varied job roles the 16-year-old could aspire to hold. Does the design of demolition projects excite them, or the management of complex on-site programmes? Is it the practical side of demolition execution, such as driving plant, that they’re eager to learn? Or are they an aspiring structural engineer?

They could have a particular interest in explosives, perhaps – and surely nobody would deny the fact that we need far more people with this niche area of expertise! Are they passionate about minimising the environmental impact of demolition schemes? Or has the containment of hazardous materials captured their curiosity?

If the 16-year-old doesn’t know that all these options exist, then we need to be telling more young people about them. A career in demolition can be challenging, exciting and fulfilling. Yes, the job is a little tougher when it involves a 4am start, or a day spent out in the chilling wind and rain. But it is a growing market, globally, and much-needed skill-sets are in decline. So now, more than ever, is a perfect time to enter the industry.

Some 16-year-olds will be very focused on the ‘here and now’, and we should never be too quick to criticise anyone who simply wants to enjoy the present. But for those who do consider where their career could take them, I don’t think they’ll be disappointed.

They could arm themselves with a raft of professional qualifications for instance. One guy I know is currently studying for an MBA with the Open University, whilst running a huge demolition programme in the North West of England. He already has an established skill-set and an impressive CV but he is hungry to develop, and we should welcome this continued ambition.

The 16-year-old may spot a new market opportunity of course, that as yet remains untapped. For me, the introduction of CDM regulations in 1992 prompted the birth of RVA Group. But what else will the future hold for demolition entrepreneurs?

I’d like to see more explosives engineers. I’d like more demolition professionals to export their expertise worldwide, to foster truly cross-cultural best practice irrespective of location. I’d like to see us harness more technologies to further strengthen safety standards on sites that are inherently hazardous. I’d like to see more diversity and equality within the workforce. And I’d like the industry to better engage with young people so that they struggle to find a reason not to enter the demolition profession.

So, how many 16-year-olds do we know who would fit perfectly into our world? Or perhaps who could mix it up entirely?


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Demolition training – scores out of 10?

RVA Group’s managing director Richard Vann recently penned his thoughts, on whether the current training provided for industry operatives is what’s needed to head off the impending skills shortage.

If you missed the article in the latest edition of Demolition and Recycling International, you can read it here…

There was a time when training in the demolition industry meant at most, donning the appropriate PPE of the time, turning up, and ‘learning the ropes’ on site.

I’m pleased to say that our approach to professional development has evolved significantly since the days of ‘sitting next to Nelly’. Demolition is now far more widely acknowledged as the scientific discipline that it truly is.

There are certificates aplenty for the modern operative, a vast number of training facilities throughout the country, and robust management training available for engineers who want to progress up the ranks. From safety courses to the successful supervision of teams, it seems that no professional demolition topic has been left unturned.

But despite the progress we’ve seen in industry, I couldn’t score us 10 out of 10.

I recently spoke to a long-standing demolition professional and peer – John Woodward – about the very topic, to cross-reference my views. He has always, quite rightly, been an advocate of professional development and formal, structured training. But he shared my worry that demolition training has slowly started to lose its practical side.

Take a simple example of learning to drive an excavator, for instance. An operator now typically gains the relevant card by getting to grips with the controls of a simulator, in a warm and controlled environment – nothing like the cold realities of a noisy, high-hazard site, with frequent vehicular traffic and personnel close by, and other distractions constantly in peripheral vision. It would therefore be wrong to assume they’re fully equipped to do the job at hand, before they’ve got into position on their first real excavating job.

The foundations of skills have to be gathered somewhere of course, and in truth no competent demolition professional should ever believe they know everything – however long they’ve been ‘in the game’. But I suppose my point is that a careful balance is required. Yes, the depth of professional certification-based training has seen our industry advance, but this cannot be to the detriment of operational knowledge. How many project managers for example, would currently know how to actually take a building down? And are we on the verge of a skills drought as a result?

The danger of skills extinction is no more acute than in the specialist area of explosives engineering – something I have recently been quite vocal about, in my dialogue with the IExpE. But I would hope I’m not alone in my fears. I am sure the UK’s limited number of experienced explosives practitioners will share my concern. The majority have retired, are approaching retirement, or merely dip their toe in the demolition industry when it’s too wet to play golf!

Light-heartedness aside, our domestic ability to use explosives to safely fell large and complex structures is very much under threat. Admittedly, alternative methodologies can be adopted for some high-rise buildings, but there are many circumstances – such as the clearance of power stations or cooling towers – when the controlled use of explosives is the safest and most efficient option.

I’ve implored the IExpE to utilise funds to incentivise the training of next-generation explosives engineers. If action isn’t taken soon, I think there are a maximum of three years left, before homegrown expertise is non-existent. After that, the import of skills will be the only option.

I would hope this sense of urgency instigates action – and quickly! However, we can’t all be sitting ducks in the meantime. We all need to realise the role we can play in shaping demolition talent of the future too.

At RVA, for example, two colleagues are currently undergoing an extensive explosives engineering training programme, to hopefully address the skills gap I have mentioned above and to aid our own succession planning strategy too. We’ve acknowledged the major challenge facing our industry and are doing what we can to address it, so as not to jeopardise service delivery when our own experts retire.

It’s important to note that I am not pointing a critical finger at the industry’s efforts to support professional development to date. But I think there’s more to be done. There’s a PR exercise required amongst youngsters, for instance, so they understand and are attracted to the roles that exist in our world. There are undoubtedly mentoring opportunities for University students so they can augment their classroom learning with practical insight. And there’s arguably a job for the Institutes to ensure CPD schemes are fit for the future.

Clearly none of this is an easy or overnight solution. But acknowledging the need to do more is surely the first step.

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Redundant asset management planning – the chemical industry’s 5 biggest considerations in 2019

RVA Group’s managing director Richard Vann recently penned an article for The Chemical Engineer, sharing the five key decommissioning considerations that the chemical industry should prioritise in 2019.

If you missed the article you can read it in full here…

‘Redundant asset management planning’ is often – due to the very name of the topic itself – viewed by chemical manufacturers in a negative light. The fact that an asset has reached the end of its economically viable life, suggests that the exercise will be fund-draining rather than income-generating, which is hardly a motivating stimulant for any ensuing works.

Yet the catalyst for devising a redundant asset management plan, is not always identical from one site to the next.

Admittedly, the industry is continuing to encounter difficult times. Headlines have widely reported on growth ‘gloom’ in Germany, for instance, therefore rationalisation of assets could be imminent for some operators if the trend continues. Reports of a global economic slowdown and an extended US-China trade war will also inevitably contribute to ongoing volatility.

Elsewhere, more positive headlines cite rising demand for green chemistry, for instance, which seemingly presents newfound opportunities for manufacturers, particularly in parts of central Europe. An upgrade or overhaul of assets may therefore be required to meet more sophisticated environmental requirements, hence a more encouraging driver for next-step asset decision making.

The global chemicals landscape is dynamic – much like any other business environment – meaning it would be irresponsible to make sweeping statements. But, the need to understand the scope and importance of redundant asset management planning cannot be ignored.

Here are five key considerations to make, in 2019:

  1. Dedicate time to the exercise

Whether the plan is to remove an asset to create space for next-generation technology or clear a site so that it can take on a new lease of life entirely, a sense of urgency is perhaps understandable, especially if end-of-lease or permitry dates are looming. However, knee-jerk decisions often result in the jeopardisation of safety, the environment, or budgets, before the project has even begun.

The clue is therefore in the title of the exercise – it needs to be planned, not rushed. A decommissioning scheme must be viewed as a major and serious engineering programme, which requires evidence-based feasibility and options modelling to be carried out, before the best-fit route map can be devised.

The chemicals manufacturer needs to gather detailed data about the structure, capacity, condition and residual hazards of every component, and there are also various critical path steps to accommodate, including permit surrenders, EHS and compliance requirements, regulatory constraints/obligations, isolations, rerouting and so on.

With accurate drawings, maintenance reports and survey findings, this process can typically take 3-6 months depending on the scale and complexity of the plant], but in the absence of the data required, it has been known for [in excess of two years to pass before a decommissioning plan can be defined and agreed.

  1. Understand human resource requirements

At present, the contractor supply chain is extremely stretched – decommissioning represents a somewhat niche area of engineering, and the number of major industrial decommissioning programmes currently underway, globally, is high. Dozens of coal-fired/fossil fuel power stations are being demolished worldwide, for example, to pave the way for sustainable energy-generation technologies.

This adds pressure to what is already a significant challenge – assembling a competent project team to manage what happens to the redundant asset next.

Decommissioning is a complex discipline that requires a defined skill-set in order to execute these high-hazard programmes safely. Usually, the most proficient team will include a combination of external decommissioning experts as well as in-house individuals with site-/process-specific knowledge. Nobody knows the asset better than the person who has operated it for (what can sometimes be) 40 years.

Such ‘knowledge engineers’ commonly possess unquantifiable levels of IP, but they can prove hard to retain when news of a site closure or rationalisation has been announced. Younger employees are often quick to look for alternative employment, whilst more mature people may accelerate their retirement plans. Early communication with these individuals is therefore crucial, as is the need to take steps to ensure their retention – or at least information extraction.

At a chemical site in [West Yorkshire (UK), a project was delayed by circa 18 months because decades of human resources had been lost. Investigatory works had to go back to basics to uncover the level of detail required to make safe, informed and commercially-sound decommissioning decisions. The value of employees therefore cannot be underestimated, even following the cessation of chemical manufacturing itself.

  1. Scope out the project schedule

Sometimes these difficulties associated with assembling a competent team, mean that the project schedule will need to be adjusted accordingly. Corners cannot be cut simply because experienced engineers are working on sites elsewhere.

That said, it may be possible to bring in a contractor who will be closely managed by an appropriately experienced consultant, if delays prove difficult to accommodate. This is one of the reasons we were appointed to oversee a decommissioning project in Canada, for example, where potentially explosive products had been left in a shut-down fertiliser plant.

That said, other contributing factors can affect the amount of time required to conduct preparatory works. Drone technology can often provide a helpful inspection aide, for example. These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be flown over an installation – and in some cases deep into specific structures – before people need enter any vessels or work at height themselves. The convenience and safety benefits associated with this clever use of technology should not be underestimated. It is far better to lose a drone than for a single person to suffer even a minor injury on-site.

  1. Consider an asset’s true resale potential

The careful decontamination, matchmarking, disassembly and sale of assets for re-erection elsewhere, is not unheard of throughout sector-wide manufacturing environments, and the world of chemicals is no different. RVA has previously overseen the careful dismantling of a 4,500 tonne ammonia plant shipped overseas from the UK to the far east.

Pursuit of a buyer as an initial strategy, is understandably a priority for asset owners who have invested >£300m in their plant – it is hard to relent that it is nothing more than scrap metal. However, in most cases, the time and energy invested in potential resale exercises is wasted.  The cost of refurbishing and relocating the asset – on top of fees associated with the baseline decommissioning works themselves – soon eat into any potential project margin. Delays incurred whilst trying to find a buyer and negotiate also contribute to excessive site security, maintenance, leasing, permit and other holding costs, which further erode any revenue generation potential.

There are exceptions, as the aforementioned project illustrates, but it is important to acknowledge that multiple assets worldwide have laid idled for years and become nothing but a mounting liability for the owner, in the hope of finding a buyer that may never materialise – many a scrap skip lies testimony to this asset retirement route.

  1. Remember CSR pressures

Community involvement can be overlooked when these often complex projects start to unfold, but communication with all project stakeholders is of paramount importance.

Local authority departments including Building Control. Environment Agency, enforcement agencies, permitry organisations, local occupiers, resident and pressure groups all often have an interest when it comes to a plant closure – so proactive engagement is invariably the way to go.

From a wider environmental perspective, it is also important to note that certain materials are proving increasingly difficult – and expensive – to dispose of. Hazardous waste management contractors are permitted to only accept specific volumes of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl at any one time, for example. The responsible and compliant disposal of these wastes will therefore also contribute to the cost management and scheduling of a redundant asset project.

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