x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Companies urge halt to dangerous demolitions

Dubai is considering establishing a federation of safety-approved demolition contractors.

Experts say the use of a ball and crane in demolitions, which is still prevalent in the Emirates, has been outlawed in most countries.
Experts say the use of a ball and crane in demolitions, which is still prevalent in the Emirates, has been outlawed in most countries.

Dubai is considering establishing a federation of safety-approved demolition contractors after industry experts warned local crews were endangering lives by using "antiquated" machines and "crude" wrecking methods better suited to the 1970s. Inexperience, the lack of debris cordons and the use of wrecking balls to topple buildings were the chief concerns among the demolition companies. Jalal Noori Khalil, a building contract engineer in Dubai Municipality's engineering supervision section, confirmed that "some highly advanced firms" shared their demolition safety expertise last month, and proposed setting up a national association for professional contractors.

"We are studying their papers," Mr Khalil said yesterday. "They discussed? very updated ideas that I forwarded to the engineering supervision division." A follow-up meeting with higher officials is expected next month, he added. Two Dubai-based companies - the construction equipment supplier Al Futtaim Auto & Machinery Company (FAMCO) and the demolition consultants GTS - are leading the push for an association of professionally-certified demolition contractors, arguing it would set higher standards.

The UAE is using "the same old techniques" that are becoming obsolete in Europe, according to Mohammed Ali Khan, FAMCO's construction equipment sales manager. "I saw in Sharjah an excavator with a bucket trying to knock a wall down by hammering the bucket against the wall," he said. "The bricks were flying everywhere. It was very crude and hazardous and it was all left open." Mr Khan said that in controlled demolition, tear-resistant plastic would contain a site to at least suppress dust clouds.

Of about 40 demolition contractors in Dubai, he said "single-owner, small contractors that have no idea how to do safe demolition" dominated the market. Rather than using the latest machinery, the companies take a "labour- intensive" approach to strip down three-storey buildings "brick by brick" with jackhammers. A collapse can be unpredictable once the foundation is weakened, said Ed Forero, the project manager for GTS, which has worked on projects including Port Rashid.

"Local contractors tend to attack with disregard demolition projects they're appointed to carry out," he said. "It's really quite frightening. "What I'd like to do is bring some kind of code of practice to the industry to stop some of these practices that were used 30, 40 years ago. "Right now, the way some companies are knocking down buildings here is with a ball and crane system, which is horrendous.

"You throw a heavy ball into a structure; you don't know which part of the structure is going to explode, what it will hit. That's outlawed almost everywhere. It was outlawed in the UK probably in the 1960s simply because there's no control." Tales of companies in the UAE crushing buildings with wrecking balls are common, Mr Khan said, despite the rarity of the machines in most other built-up urban sectors around the world.

Many companies now use more nimble modern tools with long-reach hydraulic attachments such as shears, hammers and grapples to dismantle structures safely and efficiently. Before that point, GTS engineers would calculate the structural load of the building and wrap it with dust-suppressing barriers, Mr Forero said. "It can't just be about putting bodies on the job," he said. "This is an up-and-coming place and things need to change, but I also believe there's a fantastic opportunity to bring quality skills to the region at a time when we can really use it."

mkwong@thenational.ae