Interview: 7 site safety questions for William Crooks

By Steve Ducker01 March 2022

How is safety in demolition defined - is there a universal viewpoint or does it still vary between companies?

There is some variation between companies – we are not necessarily paddling the same canoe, but we are all trying to fulfil our health and safety obligations, and we want to protect the workforce.

I think each company has some of its own ideas, but there is a basis from the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) of where we need to be.

There is also guidance from the NFDC (National Federation of Demolition Contractors) as part of the Site Audit scheme on what standards it expects from members.

What does safety mean to Cawarden and what is the company’s current direction?
We spend a lot of time and resources on training. It’s important for the development of our workers, so they know what they are doing and continue to be reminded what we expect.

William Crooks William Crooks: ‘We have over 70 full-time employees, plus subcontractors, so we try to build a camaraderie’ (Photo: Cawarden)

For a firm like us, we have over 70 full-time employees and then obviously our subcontractors, so we try to build a camaraderie.

We put the posters in site cabins, we do all the awareness, we have toolbox talks every morning, and updates and holding procedures during the day. I have my own ethos of wanting everybody to go home safe at night.

How easy is it to get the buy in from the people that you are training?
Some things are a lot easier than 10 or 20 years ago. Everyone wears a hard hat, hi-vis, protective clothing, mask, gloves.

Something the workforce has bought into is the Covid situation, with the extra site cabins we have put in, the extra welfare, temperature checks, and washing their hands more.

I think they would see that as ongoing even if Covid was no longer around.

The other good thing is the mental health aspects of everyday life in demolition.

People are more aware now if someone who is not quite 100%, going up to them to talk and not just leaving them in a situation that could cause an incident or accident on site.

Is safety on the site easier said than done?
It is, yes. Because people are people, aren’t they? One person that will buy in and another person will not be interested.

It’s my job, and my site managers’ job, and the job of the health and safety manager and other directors to try and keep putting it in front of them.

And as people get more experienced, they work together. But easy would not be a word I would put to health and safety.

What are the priorities for safety in 2022 and beyond? 
One thing for us is the danger of premature collapse and more reviewing of the structure of the buildings. I think that’s something we all need to look at.

Cawarden, Royal Arcade Shopping Site, Crewe, UK A Cawarden project at a shopping centre in the north of England. (Photo: Cawarden)

We are bringing more demolition engineers into our own business and using consultants as well who specifically look at demolition as far as the structure of the building beforehand is concerned.

Demolition has changed.

We do a more cut and carve, a lot more internal strip out and things where you are leaving the building up or you are doing things that you would never have done, because we have much more technology now.

Therefore, the big thing is assessing the building prior to the start of demolition, and then again as we work through.

We already do that, but we need to do it more and make our staff more aware of it, to give them that back up so they understand when to stop, even though the main contractor or the structural engineer is telling you to continue.

Will there be a stage where you use exclusively demolition engineers?
Yes, we talk to them all the time and they come and do training for us as well.

C&D Demolition Consultants came in to talk about structural aspects of the building at the end of last year and spent half an hour talking about that to all the workers, because if there is a problem, it only takes one person to see it and they can stop the job.

That’s what we want. I think the industry is more aware of that now.

We’ve heard a lot in the past 12 months about the skills shortage in our industry - is your approach to health and safety helping you to attract new people?
I think in the last 12 months, because we are marketing that more, we have attracted some quite experienced and great people to come and work for us, for example project managers like Martin Hurley who is a long standing MIDE (Member of the Institute of Demolition Engineers).

Cawarden Becketwell Regeneration, Derby A regneration project in the English midlands. (Photo: Cawarden)

We have also had foremen coming in from other firms who brought in more experience, machine drivers who came to us because of the way we do things now, and we are trying to attract their sons and daughters to work for us because they can see what we are trying to build.

Then there is the mentoring we are doing with young people, particularly on site, going from 18-year-olds who come to site as labourers.

We have paid for their training, put them through and now they are starting to drive machines.

They are in their mid-20s and some of them are excellent.

We take someone under our wing and let them enjoy the job. If you improve health and safety, you will attract people into the industry.

I think a lot of people, particularly younger people, see demolition as a dirty, horrible business with low pay, and it’s our job to tell them that’s not the case anymore.

Our machine drivers are earning more than the schoolteachers who told them they were never going to be any use for anything.

  • William Crooks is managing director of United Kingdom-based demolition contractor Cawarden and president of the country’s National Federation of Demolition Contractors. Article first published in the January-February issue of Demolition & Recycling International
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