24 · Health & Safety
D & D Autumn 08
NFDC vice- president David Darsey is planning a crusade to reduce the time taken to disconnect utility services prior to the commencement of demolition works, as Mark Anthony reports.
Like any industry sector, demolition brings with it its own set of obstacles and frustrations: constantly moving contractual goalposts; over- zealous regulation; and plant and material theft to name just a few. But speak to the average demolition contractor for long enough and, sooner or later, the most frustrating factor of all will bubble ominously to the surface.
The disconnection of utility services such as gas and electricity is the proverbial bad penny of the industry. Despite promises from utility companies, assurances from utility regulators, and partnering agreements with a wide variety of local and national “specialists”, service disconnections remain a nagging and constant thorn in the side of the demolition industry.
Huge Lead Times
But NFDC vice-president David Darsey believes the time has come for the utility companies to finally get their act together once and for all. Like his fellow demolition contractors, Erith Group managing director Darsey has endured interminable and costly delays caused by the utilities’ inability to respond in a timely manner, a fact that came to a head on a recent Erith contract in Mitcham, Surrey. “Lead times for planned service disconnections are often more than 28 days but, on the Mitcham contract, we began starting to book the required disconnections over two months prior to our scheduled commencement date,” he says. “We made over 80 phone calls (all of which we logged), sent numerous faxes and emails, and invested over four weeks
of administrative time but, when we arrived on site, the services were still live and we were forced to work around them.”
Darsey admits that the Mitcham contract delays were exacerbated by the fact that there were multiple utility service suppliers represented on site including Southern Gas, British Gas, EDF, London Electricity, British Telecom and Thames Water. However, the apparent confusion between suppliers and their engineering teams, the failure to respond to telephone calls and faxes, and the inability of the utilities to meet pre-agreed deadlines is all too familiar to UK demolition contractors. “Many of the problems with service disconnections can be traced back to the privatisation of the utility companies, and to their switch
■ Years of
Disjointed Darsey says that the entire system is incredibly disjointed and says that it is unusual to speak to the same call
Discussions Of course, the frustration of service disconnections is nothing new. On behalf of its members, the NFDC has been
25 · Health & Safety
D & D Autumn 08
to the use of call centres to handle incoming telephone calls. My team, and those of other demolition contractors, can easily spend 20 minutes holding on the telephone, choosing options from an automated service, only to be told that they then have to call a different number,” Darsey asserts. “This is particularly evident in the initial stages of a project when you’re merely trying to establish who the service providers are. We have meter numbers but these don’t always correspond with those held by the services themselves.”
assistant twice, a fact that prevents the demolition company establishing any kind of rapport or understanding. According to Darsey, the departmentalisation of the utility companies serves only to extend leads times and increase demolition company frustrations. “The administrative workload when dealing with the gas and electricity companies is immediately doubled because we have to deal with one provider for meter removal and another for service removal.”
Together with NFDC CEO Howard Button, David Darsey is planning meetings with the likes of Ofgas, Energywatch, Ofgem and Ofwat during the coming months. In preparation for that meeting, Darsey has compiled a highly detailed portfolio of the processes and delays on the Mitcham contract mentioned above and is urging members to do likewise. “The more examples of poor and unreliable practice we can show to the utility watchdogs the better,” Darsey adds. “I would encourage all members to monitor all phone, email and letter correspondence with the utility companies and keep it in a file that we can then use to help rectify the present situation.”
in ongoing discussion with both the utility companies and their regulatory bodies for a number of years. The Federation has also entered into several partnering agreements with specialist companies purporting to offer a national service disconnection service, all to no avail.
“The time has come for us to sit down with the various regulators and resolve this matter once and for all,” Darsey concludes. “I will be working with NFDC chief executive Howard Button on this and would urge members
to help by sharing their own experiences of delays on service disconnections.”
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