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Why the demolition industry should engage local labour

There’s no getting away from the fact that demolition projects can be disruptive – but that doesn’t mean the industry can’t offer a wide variety of benefits for local communities. Of course, nobody working in the demolition industry needs to be persuaded of the long-term advantages we bring to local

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BDC 318 : Jul 2024

rye group

Should changes to fuel usage be introduced as a new standard to the construction/demolition industry?

This is a good time to be asking ourselves about fuel usage norms because we’re currently in the midst of a fuel-related transition period. As of April 2022, red diesel – the standard option for many organisations in the construction and demolition world – is going to cost substantially more, because it will no longer be subject to a favourable tax rebate. In other words: fuel is going to get a lot more expensive. Given that red diesel will no longer be the obvious, commercially viable choice for the industry, now is the time to reflect on whether a firm commitment needs to be made to environmentally friendly alternative fuels. This chain of thought is precisely one which the government hoped to spark off with this new policy. As the policy paper notes, this tax change is designed to incentivise “users of polluting fuels like diesel to improve the energy efficiency of their vehicles and machinery, invest in cleaner alternatives, or just use less fuel. These tax changes should therefore have a positive impact on carbon emissions and air quality.” Efforts to reduce diesel emissions are, obviously, of paramount importance. As the Environmental Protection Agency notes, diesel emissions not only produce ground-level ozone, which damages vegetation, but they also contribute to climate change – an issue which is, as mentioned above, at the forefront of our collective minds at the moment. It’s clear that a switch to environmentally friendly fuels is a good move for all concerned. However, this kind of government intervention won’t achieve this by itself. Shouldering the responsibility on an industry-wide level The issue with the government’s taxation changes to red diesel, in an environmental sense, is that they may not provide the crucial incentives named in the policy paper. Marie Claude Hemming, director of external affairs for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), has spoken out against the supposed environmental benefits of the government’s decision. As she notes: “While the Government has legislated to remove the tax rebate on construction’s red diesel use, it has also removed any incentive for greener fuels. This policy increases tax revenues but no longer provides the option to choose lower carbon alternatives in the first instance.” Diesel might be getting more expensive, but green fuels aren’t getting any cheaper. This doesn’t mean that green fuels aren’t worth adopting, of course: HVO, to take a prominent example, produces 90 per cent lower emissions, and it’s made from renewable materials including animal oils, fats, and of course vegetable oil. Moreover, introducing fuel usage changes that prioritise HVO would minimise any disruptions to this transition, since HVO is compatible with existing diesel engines. This means that although, on paper, adopting a new fuel usage standard might seem like a big shake-up, there would be no disruptions to day-to-day equipment in practice. In this sense, then, it’s entirely feasible for the industry to adopt this kind of new fuel usage standard. Crucially, however, the construction/demolition industry itself needs to take on the responsibility of making this kind of bold change. Current government interventions aren’t quite enough – as such, the onus is on us to update our standards and take proactive steps towards a better future for our planet. By Ben Griffiths, SHE and Operations Director, Rye Group www.ryegroup.co.uk

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Why the demolition industry should engage local labour

There’s no getting away from the fact that demolition projects can be disruptive – but that doesn’t mean the industry can’t offer a wide variety of benefits for local communities. Of course, nobody working in the demolition industry needs to be persuaded of the long-term advantages we bring to local areas. Demolition projects are often a vital part of urban renewal plans, for example, clearing the way for the regenerative benefits of a revitalised environment. McKinsey has highlighted the urgency surrounding urban transformation brought on by the pandemic. Its report on the Bloomberg New Economy Forum notes that while cities still have a prominent part to play in our lives, we need to rethink what city centres look like – for example by making shopping more experiential in a way that can’t be replicated when making an online purchase. While demolition plays a huge and necessary role in that kind of regeneration, it’s completely understandable that local people, facing short-term disruptions to their lives, aren’t always inclined to take a broader, long-term view of the situation. As such, it’s important that the demolition industry takes the initiative to proactively demonstrate and expand upon the ways in which we contribute to the communities we serve. One of the most tangible and immediately impactful ways of doing this is to employ local labour for the various non-permanent roles that each project needs to fill. The community benefits of engaging local labour It goes without saying that providing a source of employment within a given community is going to have positive ramifications. Offering jobs to local people will stimulate the community’s economy and forge closer connections between demolition firms and the people around them – and there’s scope for firms to make a real difference in that arena. Hiring ex-military personnel, for example – as we plan to do on an upcoming project – could have a hugely positive impact on a deserving group. According to pre-pandemic research from Barclays, around 22 per cent of armed forces leavers face employment difficulties. Stepping in to help resolve this issue is completely within the grasp of demolition firms up and down the country. Alternatively, firms might consider employing younger, less experienced people for some of its junior positions. After all, the industry can be highly rewarding, but – beyond childhood images of wrecking balls and explosions – it’s not one that many young people will have considered as a career path. In setting young people’s feet on this path, demolition firms can contribute towards changing the current youth unemployment problem. The House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee has just recently pointed out that one in eight under 25s are neither working, in education, nor in training – leaving the stage set for the industry to give back to the community in an instantly substantive way. Local councils have recently woken up to benefits like these, with some new projects requiring the employment of local people – ten per cent of the workforce, in some cases – in order to satisfy and discharge planning conditions. But firms are under no obligation to limit themselves to these minimum requirements – especially considering the advantages that local labour can offer demolition projects. Advantages of local labour for demolition firms Beneficial though employing local labour can be for communities, this isn’t just an empty gesture towards CSR. There are, in fact, a wealth of varied advantages for demolition firms which embrace local labour. Taking a broad view, there are wide-ranging implications for the environmental impact of projects which employ local people. With several employees living close to demolition sites, the carbon emissions associated with commuting will be reduced or eliminated altogether. This is of great benefit for firms looking to reduce their carbon footprint – something we should all be looking to embrace. According to the International Energy Agency, road vehicles account for three quarters of all emissions, so taking steps to limit their usage is a fantastically beneficial aspect of local labour. Leaving aside the wider environmental ramifications, local labour can also provide practical, on-the-job advantages to firms prepared to embrace it. Employing local people allows firms to access new pools of talent and different skill sets, which isn’t necessarily possible if firms choose to ferry existing employees to faraway sites on a regular basis. These different skill sets come to the fore when – returning to a previous example – firms hire ex-military personnel. Military veterans are trained to operate in high-risk environments, making them well suited to the demolition industry – and a prime instance of the transferable skills that local labour can offer. Clearly, then, the practice of hiring locally has extensive ramifications – for the environment, for local economies, for local people in need of good employment in a rewarding profession, and for an industry whose long-term efforts to improve local areas can be matched by an immediate and tangible contribution to the communities it serves. Written for BDC Magazine by Ben Griffiths, SHE and Operations Director, Rye Group

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