Author Archives: Katie Mallinson

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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Demolition And Recycling International Magazine - Life Beyond BrexitIn the latest edition of Demolition and Recycling International, RVA’s managing director Richard Vann gives his thoughts on what’s in store for the world of demolition post-Brexit.

If you missed the write up you can read his column in full, here…

  Demolition And Recycling International Magazine - Life Beyond Brexit (176.4 KiB)

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Barking Power Station chimneys demolished with explosives

RVA has overseen the demolition of two 55m high chimneys at Barking Reach Power Station, in East London, as the site gets one step closer to its new lease of life.

The concrete stacks with steel flues were brought to ground in only 10 seconds each, via the controlled use of approximately 10Kg of explosives.

Mindful of nearby stakeholders – including a petroleum fuels depot only 200m away – the early Sunday morning demolition was coordinated to minimise disruption and ensure maximum safety standards. With the 42-acre site visible from the A13, road closures were enforced, and the collapse mechanism was designed to avoid any structural damage to the main turbine halls – which remain intact.

Five 2,500 tonne boilers (heat recovery steam generators – HRSGs) have also been felled using traditional demolition techniques. This work was carried out in the late evening, over a six week period, when the peak rush hour traffic had passed.

The sequential demolition was planned by RVA in an exercise which began back in 2014. Engaged by Barking Power Ltd – part of Canadian firm Atco – RVA was initially appointed to undertake various front-end engineering services, including costings studies and the provision of help to de-rate the site. The coal-fired assets were closed in the same year, before various options were investigated for the site’s future.

The demolition project was then officially kickstarted last year, with RVA returning to deliver its suite of works execution services, including project and EHS management.

Commenting on the assignment, RVA’s managing director Richard Vann said: “We have now overseen more than 770 decommissioning projects worldwide, but that doesn’t mean they are not without their challenges. Every scheme requires meticulous planning and management, to ensure a safe, quality-led and cost-effective approach with minimal impact on the surrounding environment.

“With Barking, there was the added complexity of protecting the turbine hall and its contents, as the site looks set to embark on a new and very different life, having been acquired by the City of London Corporation.”

In December 2018, media reports confirmed that the City of London Corporation had acquired the site and were considering its future use as an iconic wholesale food market.

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RVA heads to Europe to deliver decommissioning seminars

Members of RVA’s senior leadership team are heading to continental Europe this month to deliver advice-led presentations at two of the energy sector’s most renowned events.

Strategic development director Ian Wharton will take to the stage on 7 March, at the 5th Annual Decommissioning & Demolition Forum for Process Plants in Barcelona. The seminar – co-authored and presented by senior manager of demolition Keiron Mulholland – is entitled Case study: Major European multi hydrocarbon plants’ decommissioning and demolition programme.

The 45-minute session with Q&As is set to cover:

  • Details of a 5-year multi-plant and multi-location programme
  • Legacy considerations
  • The project execution strategy
  • Progress so far

Commenting on being invited to speak for the fifth year running, Ian said: “This well-respected event has its origins in the fossil fuel market. Knowing how important knowledge transfer is in this inherently hazardous world of engineering, we have looked forward to presenting every year.

“However, having developed strong relationships with the event’s organisers, we have hopefully helped to shape what will be an even more compelling programme for the 2019 event. This time, the programme will cover sessions relevant to fossil fuel power plants, chemical/petrochemical and refinery industries, so we hope there is even more opportunity to learn during this year’s gathering.”

Ian will stay at the conference for the duration of the two-day programme, to network with peers and answer any further questions that delegates have.

Later in March, Ian and RVA’s operations director Matthew Waller will head to Prague for the 2nd Annual Decommissioning and Demolition of Fossil Fuel Power Plants Conference. This time, RVA is  a sponsor of the two-day event (21-22 March), and Ian will chair all sessions from start to finish, facilitate discussion throughout.

Two 45-minute sessions will also be led by RVA:

  • Day 1

Power station closure – be prepared:

What to expect through each stage of the lifecycle of a power plant decommissioning programme, by Matthew Waller

  • Day 2

Establishing and maintaining health and safety excellence in decommissioning and demolition programmes, by Ian Wharton.


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Demolition - Missed OpportunitiesIn issue 27 of Demolition, our managing director Richard Vann provides his thoughts in an exclusive feature on the missed opportunities within and around the demolition industry.

  Demolition - Missed Opportunities (201.9 KiB)

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