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A demolition officer is a specialist construction role that deals with the breaking down and clearing up of derelict buildings and other structures that are no longer needed.
In all big cities, real estate space is at an absolute premium. While there are always new projects in the offing, sometimes the location will be too far out from the city centre, and buildings in the way have to be removed. Similarly, superannuated buildings, derelict, crumbling and dangerous, need to be removed for the safety of the public. Both of these situations require the expertise of a demolition officer.
Demolition officers are specialist construction professionals, whose job is arguably as important and creative as those putting the buildings up in the first place. A management level demolition officer must make surveys of a condemned building, and then ascertain the safest, quickest and most efficient way of bringing it down. Then, they must bring it down!
Depending on the size of the building, this can take in large plant machinery, such as the wrecking ball so beloved of cartoon writers everywhere, to explosives for large structures. On smaller jobs, where reclamation is a concern, a building may even be taken down carefully by hand, with fixtures and fittings stripped out with care, and not bludgeoned out.
The work of a demolition officer can vary, depending on the exact situation. Labourers are ‘at the coalface’, going in and clearing areas as well as identifying reclaimable materials. A mattockman has the specific role of taking out door frames, roofing structures and other fixtures and fittings, whereas a topman takes on all of these duties but does other more specialist work too, such as steel-cutting. It is also the topman’s responsibility to oversee the safety of a certain part of a site.
The working environment, as you might imagine, can be a touch hazardous. Being inside a crumbling old building, there is always the danger of collapse, and the job is physically arduous, with dust and a lot of physical labour involved. There will also be intense health and safety training, and a demolition operative will be expected to learn to use a number of different specialist tools, such as oxyacetylene torches for cutting. You can also expect to receive instruction in the safe handling and removal of hazardous materials, such as asbestos.
Construction work overall is predominantly a male-orientated profession, but there is nothing stopping a woman who feels she has the correct skills and interest in this type of work getting involved.
As with a lot of entry level jobs in the construction industry, you may well be taken on as a trainee or apprentice. Trainees can earn around £13000 per annum, with wages on qualification rising to around the £18000-21000 mark.
As your experience grows, and you gain specialist abilities such as explosives handling, this salary can increase. There might also be overtime payments on some jobs, depending on the project and company.
With the right experience it is possible to take on a director role, which can be very well remunerated.
- Assess and survey a building to find the right way to demolish it
- Use power tools and hand tools to strip out walls and other fittings
- Maintain (as far as possible) a tidy work area
- Sift rubble to pull out reclaimable and reusable building materials
- Make use of plant machinery to knock down larger structures, or to use magnets to separate out materials
- Store and use explosives safely
- Maintain and service equipment
- Ensure Health & Safety rules are rigorously applied
There are no hard and fast academic prerequisites to becoming a demolition operative, although for training schemes a company might ask for some basic GCSEs.
Many of these types of roles are taught ‘on the job’, so you will be taken on and given progressive training all the time. To begin with your employer will probably induct you thoroughly in all aspects of health and safety, before you are allowed to work under a senior professional.
You can then go on to work towards an NVQ 2 in Demolition, and you may also be encouraged to gain a Certificate of Competence of Demolition Operatives (CCDO) card, which has a number of different levels depending on your experience and qualifications. This then allows you to take on different types of demolition work.
For in-depth information on this scheme, please see the ‘Links’ section below.
- Strength and endurance for physical work
- The ability to follow strict safety rules
- The ability to work to a strict timetable
- An aptitude for working with your hands, and with tools
- A willingness to work in sometimes dirty and dangerous conditions
- Solid teamworking skills
- Good communication skills, especially written, if you have to write reports and recommendations
- A sensible and methodological approach
- An interest in physics and/or architecture is helpful, but not essential
Working as a demolition officer can give you a taste of both indoor and outdoor work. In most roles you will be working out of an office, inside and around the actual structure that has been condemned. As previously mentioned, the nature of the work is dirty and dangerous.
There is always the danger of a rotten old building collapsing, as well as the inherent risk associated with some of the numerous tools that are used. Put simply, it can be a dangerous job, but it is made safer by a strict adherence to the safety rules in place.
The hours in this trade can vary. You can expect to work a standard working week, but there will be times when you will be expected to work longer hours on projects that have a deadline.
There is no real experience required to become a demolition officer. Of course, a background in construction or other physical trade is advantageous, as it demonstrates an interest and possibly an aptitude for the type of work demolition entails.
All the major construction firms will have at least a small team of demolition professionals, and there are firms all over the country that specialise specifically in this type of work. Even if there are no openings for demolition work, you may be able to take on a normal labouring job to gain experience while you wait for something in the demolition field to come up.
The career path for a demolition officer is fairly linear. You work your way up through the differing CCDO levels, and finally, with enough experience, you can choose to apply for a supervisory role, overseeing and planning projects. You might also want to set up your own demolition business, or even move into other areas of construction.
Also known as…
- Deconstruction Officer
What’s it really like?
Eric Rosay, 42, is a contracts manager for DDS Demolition, in Monkton, Kent.
How long have you been in this particular job?
I have been in this specific role for about five years.
How and why did you become a Demolition Officer?
I initially joined DDS Demolition as an operative, before working my way up to Contracts Manager. I originally got involved in the industry as I already had experience in the construction sector; demolition seemed interesting and was different to other trades so I got myself involved.
What kind of qualifications do you require to become a Demolition Officer?
This is dependent on your clients and the type of contracts you undertake, I would think that as a minimum a good Health & Safety Training scheme (maybe a NEBOSH or IOSH) would be acceptable, although some may say a degree in Civil Engineering is required. Personally, I think experience is what’s most important.
What did you do before this job?
I was a general operative, as I mentioned above, and then a Site Supervisor.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
My main work is generally overseeing all sites, from contract award to final accounts. I also assist site supervisors with management, forming methodologies, troubleshooting technical difficulties, chairing progress meetings, staff and machine allocation, and project programming.
What do you like about the job?
The work is definitely interesting. Personally I like seeing buildings that have sat redundant and untouched for 20 odd years: the urban exploration. There’s also a sense of accomplishment when you identify a method to demolish a building that others missed.
What do you dislike about the job?
Sometimes the hours can be long, but I would think this is true for all management.
What’s the largest demolition you’ve ever worked on? Any famous ones?
The biggest contract we’ve been awarded to date would be Leybourne Grange, which was £2.4million. It was a disused mental asylum. The most notorious contract we’ve completed would have to be Brixton Market multi-storey car park, an iconic structure in the centre of London (even Bob Marley sang about it!).
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
The best route to take is from the ground up. Open your ears, and remember to learn from those around you – never guess how to do things.
What kind of jobs do you think you might do after this role?
The next step from here would be Operations Management, but I think this is as high as I wish to go (for now!).
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering this career?
It’s an industry that due to the high risk activities cannot tolerate mistakes; if you cannot take criticism and will only do what you think is best, it’s not for you.
Can you give us a rough idea of the salaries people could expect in this industry?
Anything from minimum wage for an unskilled labourer to a six-figure salary for top directors.