Author Archives: Katie Mallinson

Closing the door on a chaotic year

“Without falling into cliché mode, reflecting on 2020 and predicting what’s to come in 2021 can be difficult as no one knows what the future has in hold” is the message from RVA’s very own Richard Vann.

If you’ve not had chance to read the recent edition of Demolition and Recycling International, you can catch up here…

It’s always hard to write a reflection on the year without tripping into cliché territory. The same can be said when it comes to predicting what the next 12 months might hold in store, because nobody can ever say with true certainty what lies ahead.

All of this is undoubtedly compounded further still, when you consider what 2020 has thrown up. Most of us are tired of reading about ‘unprecedented times’ and, in truth, for many people – on both a personal and professional level – any words will simply feel trite. But it has been a year of great distress and reflect we must – it’s an important exercise at the best of times, not least now.

In the early parts of 2020, many projects slowed or were suspended entirely – at least temporarily while consultants, contractors and clients alike, paused to take stock. For most, some agile schedule adjustments and roll outs of new site protocols, meant ‘normality’ could resume fairly quickly. For others, especially those working in international waters, the ongoing travel restrictions have presented the need to reconsider entirely how assignments can be tackled.

However, as with the majority of unexpected events, the initial periods are the most challenging. So of course, the ongoing uncertainty posed by Covid-19 isn’t pleasant, and anxieties remain high for a number of colleagues, which requires considerate support from business leaders. But I’ve seen many industry professionals – particularly company owners – move on from that initial period of chaos and now default to problem solving mode.

Because yes, Covid-19 has been a massive – and tragic – event.  But the only way we can deal with it – certainly at management level – is to treat it as another set of circumstances to navigate as best we can, just as we would any other business challenge.

We may well pass through the bulk of 2021 before we see any glimmers of life reverting to ‘normal’. But demolition projects will continue, and in truth, more work may arise if economic conditions accelerate asset rationalisation exercises.

So, what will we make of next year?

Organisations are now relying on technology more than ever before, accelerated of course by the need to work from home when isolating. The firms who digitally transformed their businesses some time ago – and migrated from paper-based systems to cloud communications – adapted to lockdown relatively effortlessly. Others have found it tough – as much for cultural reasons as opposed to anything tech related.

But some employers have been almost forced to trust that their teams can be productive when they are away from the traditional working environment. And a good thing to come from the pandemic, is that this is now widely regarded as the norm.

It’s difficult not to lose a sense of camaraderie when working disparately, so managers have had to don their ‘employee engagement officer’ hats to keep colleagues psychologically connected, not just practically in touch with each other. This represents a step into the unknown for many business leaders, but I don’t think this is a bad thing. ‘The way things have always been done’ is perhaps no longer acceptable.

I think a number of us in the demolition industry have consequently re-assessed our working practices. Of course, there are instances where physical boots on the ground are needed. But a 500-mile round-trip to meet a client for two hours, perhaps isn’t one. When the cost of time, travel and accommodation has been calculated – as well as the carbon impact of otherwise avoidable journeys – the rationale for some site visits no longer stacks up. The same can be said for internal meetings with colleagues located throughout the country – in short, Covid-19 doesn’t have to jeopardise communication.

Away from Covid-19, and I’ve seen some great examples of teamwork, collaboration and innovation throughout 2020. At a conference in Europe at the turn of the year, for instance, I heard how one demolition firm encapsulated an entire cooling tower with a moveable sheeted framework to minimise dust. It will have probably cost millions, but protecting the environment – and the company’s reputation – was the priority. This meant that the use of explosives was not chosen for this particular structure, as would perhaps have ordinarily been expected.

That’s not to say the explosives industry is becoming staid. Many of us will have recently read an article which explored the use of military-grade “kick and cut” charges, to bring down structures at a quarry. By removing the need for pre-weakening techniques, this approach presented a number of potential safety advantages for site personnel, although it will – as with all other specialist approaches – have limitations. This technique arguably may not be suitable on a site located in the heart of a community, for example. However, it is important to recognise the innovation, and – where the structure, application and surroundings permit – it is a great example of developing a solution to fit a specific set of circumstances.

Staying with explosives engineering, the ever-depleting level of talent within this niche discipline causes me mounting worry – to the extent where I wonder if we’ve gone past the point of no return. I’m not suggesting we won’t see explosives being used on sites over the next three to five years – of course we will, and there are some world-renowned specialists based right here in the UK who will play a part in such projects. It’s also not to say that there aren’t any examples of formal learning and development programmes in progress, worldwide – there are, certainly at company level. But I fear the number of people entering the profession, simply isn’t sufficient to keep a critical mass and avoid this demolition technique largely disappearing in the medium-term future.

Therefore 2021 will be a crucial year for lots of reasons, but while Covid-19 poses the severity of risk that it currently does, the health and safety of us all must remain the priority. For demolition firms, this mindset goes without saying anyway. I therefore look forward to seeing how the industry’s professionals collaborate, share knowledge, progress and develop, together, as the months unfold.





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Site Exit and Closure Programme

On behalf of Eli Lilly and Company, I would like to pass on my sincere thanks for the work you undertook to get our 47 acre research and development site at Windlesham ready for sale.

Lilly confirmed the site was to be sold in January 2020 with the majority of my engineering team leaving in May 2020. This left a very small, retained team to manage the decontamination and engineering works required for the sale which was going to prove a challenge to deliver the works to the aggressive timeline of 10 months. We engaged with RVA primarily to be the project managers for work and to assume the CDM Principal Designer role but we soon discovered they had become our de facto quantity surveyor, technical advisor, safety consultant and trusted partner. The RVA project manager quickly became embedded in the team, taking a lead role in working with the retained Lilly team and the remote RVA Operations Manager to very quickly but together a comprehensive and robust tender package, take it through competitive tender and award the contract. RVA then project managed this challenging project through to successful completion and was able to deal with scope and timeline changes that came our way.

RVA’s attention to detail, commitment to safety and experience in this work was second to none and they were key to bringing in the project to time and budget, and more importantly with no accidents or near misses. Their level of rigour, including regular project meetings, contractor safety reviews and audits was impressive, and they also took on and managed other ad hoc engineering tasks to assist with the site closure.

I would highly recommend them to other companies conducting similar work.

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RVA achieves hat-trick of ISO accreditations

RVA Group is delighted to announce that the team has once again achieved re-accredited status for our ISO 9001 quality and ISO 14001 environmental standards, following our annual audit.

However, this year, we have also gained ISO 45001 recognition for our commitment to health and safety management. This third certification – which supersedes BS OHSAS 18001 – evidences the rigour that RVA applies to the auditing and management of risks in the workplace, on sites and throughout the supply chain.

“We have a continuous improvement mindset throughout RVA Group, and in truth, industry standards set only the minimal benchmark we strive to achieve when it comes to the management of our health and safety, environmental and quality obligations,” explains RVA’s managing director Richard Vann.

“But these internationally recognised accreditations provide independent evidence of our commitment to our people, our customers and the world we live in.”

RVA’s engineering consultancy director Mark Taylor – who has spearheaded the latest recertification process – added: “To gain a tripartite accreditation for our detailed management systems and procedures, is a real milestone for RVA. This will enable us to further streamline our processes and the way we deliver our services, which will translate into benefits for both our own organisation and our clients’, as we continue to grow.”

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Tenders invited for dismantling contractor in Cyprus

The international search has begun for a contractor, to execute a Cypriot power station dismantling process for the Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC).

It was announced late last autumn that RVA Group had been appointed to oversee the complex 26-month assignment at Moni Power Station – a 1960s construction approximately 14km east of Limassol – and the development of a detailed tender package was one of the first crucial elements of the initial planning and preparation phase.

A number of local partners – specialising in safety management, structural engineering and geotechnical science – are already working with RVA’s team of engineers. Now all eyes are on the identification of a dismantling contractor who can help fulfil the complex brief.

The major items for dismantling/demolishing include six 30MW steam and oil-fired turbines, boiler generating units and all ancillary equipment, six chimneys and switchyard. All have been out of operational use since 2013.

The turnkey contract will also require the removal, collection, transportation and management of all asbestos containing materials; the careful salvaging of specific assets for use as display exhibits in a local museum; as well as clearance of the site to ground level and environmentally responsible backfilling.

Full details of the tender process can be found on the EAC website.

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How to reinvigorate a team post-lockdown

The message from Richard Vann in the latest copy of Demolition and Recycling International is that you can reinvigorate a team post-lockdown, but it must be done with three key factors in mind – respect, care and caution.

If you’ve not had chance to read the recent edition, you can catch up here…

The potential psychological impact of COVID-19 has been widely documented. With many people struggling with the effects of social isolation, fears over job security, anxieties surrounding the potential ill health of themselves or loved ones, not to mention the significant general disruption to everyday life, mental health is in severe jeopardy.

Encouraging colleagues back to work, post-lockdown, must therefore be done with respect, care and caution.

As is often the case, attitudes, coping mechanisms and resilience levels will vary from one individual to the next. Some people are extremely keen to return to ‘normal’, others are extremely wary of the very thought, and there will be those occupying the ‘middle ground’ – they may be comfortable with the idea of coming back, providing they are confident that necessary safety precautions have been rigorously considered and implemented. And rightly so.

Likewise, there will be those keen to rebuild a sense of routine back into their working life, others who may have slightly reshaped their idea of a work-life balance, and some who have picked up very bad habits since the onset of the pandemic.

Some people will have been ‘absent’ from the demolition landscape for only a matter of days. If a project was considered business critical, for example, schedules may have encountered minor pauses at most – simply to facilitate a readjustment to on-site practices that accommodated the Government’s social distancing guidelines. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s possible that others haven’t been near a live site – or workplace of any sort – since the beginning of spring.

All of this – and more – presents business leaders with fresh challenges when it comes to the safe, compliant, ethical and effective management of their teams.

But to re-engage employees, post-lockdown, we perhaps need to stick to the basics.

Remembering our duty of care

Upholding our duty of care to colleagues – whether they’re operating on an inherently hazardous live demolition site, or in a comparatively safe office environment – is something we do as standard. So, while the risks we face now look a little different when compared to our world pre-lockdown, anticipating and taking steps to minimise these risks, is a process we should all feel familiar with.

The implementation of on-site social distancing and hygiene regimes is crucial in this respect, as colleagues won’t feel comfortable in the ‘workplace’ if their basic needs are not met. For example, only two people may be permitted to use a site cabin at any one time; PPE requirements may now stipulate that face masks are compulsory; and general personal cleanliness levels may need to be redefined.

Certain processes may require a complete overhaul, whereas others may benefit from minor adjustments. An excavator operator who works alone in their own cab, for instance, may simply need to wipe down their space at the end of the day.

Communication is key

Talking to colleagues about all of this is crucial. But again, communication is nothing new.

Some team leaders may choose to send formal written dialogue prior to colleagues’ return to work, re-induction briefings may be helpful when teams first arrive back on site, site signage will provide continued reminders as to how to stay safe, and post-lockdown protocol may even involve the completion of health questionnaires or medical reviews to assess the suitability of employees’ workplace presence.

Leaders must think carefully about which communication methods work best for their organisation – and also consider what may resonate with  certain employees and not others.

Compliance is only the baseline

As I’ve said many times, regulatory compliance should set only the minimum standard. We shouldn’t just consider Government guidelines but also what is fair.

For example, a proportion of a demolition project’s schedule can be progressed remotely, from the safety of an individual’s home. So, leaders who have previously chosen not to offer home working may now encounter push backs from employees keen to maintain some of their newfound flexibility. There are commercial, environmental and safety advantages to reduced travel of course, so this should be considered where possible.

A complete shift to remote working will naturally be impossible for most demolition firms, so employees need to be prepared to be flexible too. Sometimes a client meeting is far better delivered in person, providing it is safe to do so, and likewise cultural dynamics often benefit from a team gathering in the same place, rather than relying on the limited cues that can be conveyed via video.

Many demolition specialists undertake overseas work too, which presents additional challenges for employers. And of course, employees’ individual circumstances need to be accommodated, not to mention a country’s point-in-time COVID risk status. But, providing all scientific advice and safety protocols have been heeded, businesses must keep going if they’re to ensure their long-term survival.

Top tips for demolition leaders:

  1. Agree expectations so everyone is clear of their role – with reminders of responsibilities where necessary – to help refocus the team.
  2. Make savvy use of technology to uphold face-to-face contact from a distance, and remain accessible should colleagues have questions at any time.
  3. Keep talking. Robust lines of communication are key to engagement, but ensure COVID-19 isn’t the only subject covered. Explore professional development topics, project updates, pipelines and more.
  4. Remember everyone is different. Some people may return feeling extremely alert and at the top of their game. Others will have been extremely sedentary since March with little to stimulate their minds. They may even need an EHS refresh. Treat people as individuals and proactively monitor performance, engagement and wellbeing levels.
  5. See this as the chance to improve. Clichés aside, there are learnings to be had from COVID-19, so don’t necessarily strive to get back to the ‘normal’ you’ve always known, if there’s the opportunity to be better.



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What does the Principal Designer role mean in demolition?

The role of a Principal Designer (PD) may be familiar territory for RVA Group, as we routinely adopt PD responsibilities on behalf of our UK clients. But for organisations new to the world of demolition, PD is yet another acronym that merits further exploration.

Here, RVA’s operations director and experienced decommissioning engineer Matthew Waller, gives a top-line overview of this extremely important project role…

In the most basic of terms, the appointment of a Principal Designer is a legal and fundamental requirement for UK decommissioning and demolition projects. This duty holder role is set out under the Construction Design Management (CDM) regulations, which exist to help manage health and safety on these potentially high-hazard assignments.

However, the successful fulfilment of PD responsibilities, in truth extends far beyond this regulatory framework. In fact, in our opinion, the role of Principal Designer is   integral to good project management and an essential element of the structure of any decommissioning team.

The role of a PD is to analyse the various potential risks that exist on a given site. Such risks may relate to the demolition discipline itself, but will also extend to include the process-specific hazards relevant to the industrial background and current operational status of the plant concerned. The PD may therefore need to enhance their own process knowledge with that of personnel from the sector, whether that be from energy, pharmaceutical, petrochemical, and so on.

The Principal Designer must then understand how these multiple hazards interact with each other, to assist and provide direction that will help mitigate the danger they pose.

In short, this detailed project knowledge and understanding adds demonstrable value to a demolition project. It forms the backbone of advice to the client in terms of:

  • What hazards are known to exist and can therefore be accounted for
  • And where they are located
  • When and in what order the risks should be approached
  • Who should tackle them, once the persons carrying out the works have been fully informed of the risks and the works that have gone before
  • How the process should be executed, in terms of communications between all involved parties, the most appropriate techniques for hazard mitigation, taking into account best-practice procedures, methodologies and ever-evolving legislation
  • And why, i.e. the ultimate rationale once everything has been assessed.

The above naturally relies on robust communication with all parties involved throughout, including the Client, Principal Contractor, CDM Contractors, Designers, etc as well as any other personnel brought in to work on the assignment. But it is this same clear and informed dialogue which will best protect health and safety during the entire project lifecycle. The PD should strive to create a successful safety-first mindset, with the management of EHS considered a joint responsibility shared by all involved.

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