As civil engineers we tend to focus on designing new structures and systems. However, there is an entire field dedicated to the end of a structure’s life cycle that many civil engineers do not think of getting involved in. Demolition requires detailed engineering and planning that a civil engineering background is perfect for. Today we are going to talk to an expert in the field of demolition to learn about what he does and the advice he has for civil engineers who want to get into the field. Bio:
Please welcome our guest today; Professional Engineer Damon Kozul. Damon is an expert in the field of demolition and web design. His demolition and engineering experience includes commercial and industrial demolition, wrecking, onsite concrete crushing, equipment salvage, rigging, demolition consulting, and concrete and steel silo demolition. He is the safety manager and in house engineer for R.Baker and Sons which has offices in Red Bank, New Jersey and Staten Island, New York. He has agreed to sit down with us to discuss his work and the advice he has for up and coming engineers. Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Damon; It sure sounds like you have a lot of stuff going on. How do you find the time to do everything that is on your plate?
It’s extremely difficult; I have a wife, I have two kids, and I have friends and I do value my time with all of them; but I’m very aggressive in what I do. If I’m not into multiple interests or subjects I tend to get bored easy.
The thing that really gets my creative juices going is doing internet consulting and setting up websites. But it is a balancing act. Sometimes on Saturday I will wake up a six o’clock I’ll get three hours in before the kids wake up and then later that evening instead of sitting in front of the TV, I will get some work done.
Sometimes it’s difficult to balance everything, but I’m in it for the long haul. I have a full time job but with the economy the way it is I have to be able to count on myself. So I created multiple revenue streams so down the road I can pay for my children’s colleges and have a nest egg so I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to do when I’m 60 or 70.Q: Can you let us know a little bit more about what you do at R. Baker and Sons?
I work at R. Baker and Sons as their in house engineer, safety manager, and marketing manager. I also do the marketing for the Baker’s Marina Group. In addition to that, I also have my own consulting company which is called Three D Enterprises. That company is predominantly an internet consulting and search engine optimization firm in which I optimize client’s websites to ensure they rank high on search engines. Q: In a typical day what issues come up for you as a safety manager and in-house engineer at R. Baker?
For every project that we do; whether it is demolition or rigging, there are numerous engineering or safety plans and documents that need to be developed and reviewed. For example, if we are doing a demolition I will develop the site specific safety plan, and will work with supervisors and managers to develop the project specific work plan. We also have to do an Occupation Safety and Health Association (OSHA) engineer survey and JSA task hazard analysis. The JSA task hazard analysis requires us to go through each specific task in a project and identify the specific hazards and how we are going to mitigate or abate the risk.
In addition to that I also develop a lot of the toolbox talks given every morning by our work crews before they start work. These talks ensure everyone understands what the day’s tasks and risks are. During these talks I will give them documents they can read which are specific to the hazards they will have to face that day. For example, if they are working on man lifts I will give the managers safety documents to read to the crews that relate to man lifts. This way they understand what the hazards are and how they can avoid them.
OSHA has made the construction sites very safe. R. Baker and Sons and I are 100% behind that. R. Baker and Sons performs projects on active facilities such as pharmaceutical plants or petro-chemical plants, so if there is an accident it is not going to affect just one person, it is going to affect many people and their families. Nobody wants that. My main task at R. Baker and Sons is to make sure that never happens.
Safety is the main reason all the planning and documentation we do gets done. My daily and weekly tasks are geared toward making sure accidents don’t happen. Everything we do in demolition has to be planned. If you go in there hap hazardly you are asking for trouble and I don’t want anything to happen on my watch.Q: What is the most interesting demolition project you have worked on?
We worked for an active refinery. On all four sides of the project area we had active lines that made taking down a “unit” very difficult. In this project there was rigging, and demolition. In fact there were a lot of different trades involved and it was extremely daunting. We came away from the job without any accidents because we planned from day one and every day after that while the job was going on.
R. Baker also does a lot of rigging and relocation work. If you go to the R Baker website
you can see many interesting projects we have performed. We did a lot of the rigging required to get the World Trade Center artifacts into the 9-11 museum. It was a very moving project for us. There were a lot of emotions and it all went smooth. If you watch the Discovery Channel video you can see that we lowered the fire truck ladder into the museum. We also moved and erected “the cross” and in total we will have rigged and moved 30 artifacts at project completion. At R. Baker we are very honored to be a part of this particular project. We had great sub contractors and a great team that all put in a tremendous amount of planning to get this done. I just played a small part. Q: For a project like that how long does the planning and engineering process take?
It is all project specific. If we are moving one piece of equipment through a plant, then it is just a couple days. But when you get into demolishing structures on active facilities or the type of rigging we did for the museum, the planning can take months. A major portion of the planning is meeting with the people involved and making sure that everyone has reviewed and signed off on the plans. It was because of all the planning, that the 9-11 museum project went so smooth. And that is what you want. You don’t want any issues to come up during the actual operations. Q: What kind of engineering decisions need to be made when doing a demolition?
You have got to make sure you have the right team, the right operators, and the right laborers. All these people are important. For example, when the operator is demolishing a structure, he is going to have the best feel of how that structure is going to come down. In addition, we have spotters that watch to see if anything doesn’t look right. At R Baker& Son, everybody has the right to stop the job; especially if it has to do with safety. Even with all the planning, you have to remember that you are still out there in the real world. Conditions change, things happen. You have to stop and make sure everything is safe and if need be revisit the planning again. You could put your blinders on and keep going, but then you are asking for trouble. Q: What is it like to work with explosives (if you do)?
I do not. The majority of demolitions are done by mechanical means. In the industry there are specialists with proper licensing and background checks who work with explosives. I have only been involved with explosives twice. We “shot” (that is the vernacular for using explosives) two stacks. On each one we worked with a specialist.
They were definitely interesting projects to work on but the explosive demolition was just a small part of the overall project. The demolitions that use explosives are the ones you see on TV because they are so dynamic. But in terms of the overall demolition world they are a small percentage. Even so, when you implode something like a stadium, you still have a big pile that needs to be cleaned up by mechanical means. So in come the excavators and trucks to clean up the mess once it is in a pile. Explosives just make it easier to take certain structures down. Q: How did you start out and what advice would you give to a young engineer just getting out of college who wants to get into your field?
I started off in an engineering company. I learned the basic engineering principles, how to be organized, and I learned a lot about contracts. Later in my career I got into projects that involved demolition and of course I fell in love with it.
I recommend the young engineers get the fundamentals down. Work for an engineering company, lean the basics, learn how to organize your information and paper work and then try and get field experience.
I have found that there are book smarts and then there is knowledge of what really happens out in the field. Most people who I deal with that are really sharp have both. And that doesn’t just go for the engineers I work with that is in general. If someone wants to get into the demolition field at least from an engineer standpoint I definitely recommend getting in with a good engineering company; perhaps someone who works with clients to facilitate the reconfiguration of their plants and possibly oversees some demolition. Then definitely get out in the field to see how it is done. There are many demolition companies out there that are always in need of engineers. Q: What kind of information would you say you didn’t learn in college?
My education is from an environmental civil standpoint and the information that was not imparted to me in college was the business aspect of engineering. It wasn’t until I got out of college that I learned how businesses and contracts worked. In fact, contracts and subcontracts took me a lot of years to learn. I’m not an attorney but I can take a first look at a contract and see if there are any errors or omissions that would not be acceptable to the company.
Another thing I didn’t learn was how important it was to get out into the field and see how the work is actually done. I learned that it is important to see how much an excavator can produce, how much it can dig, and how much of a building it can take down in a day. You are not going to learn that in school, you have to see it done. And then put all those principles and education together to develop your plans, write your bids, and make sure subcontracts are tight. The learning process is a combination and an evolution. Q: What do you wish you knew when you were straight out of college and just starting out in your career?
When I first started out I wish I would have known how things are done in the field. I didn’t get a lot of field experience early on and I don’t know that a lot of young engineers are going to get a lot of field experience in the first couple of years. When you see something on paper or you are trying to develop a plan. If you have not done it before, and you haven’t been out in the field, it is very difficult to put the two together.
Once I got out in the field and made the connection. I was able to understand and ask questions like “What am I designing?” “What am I reading?” “What are we trying to say here?” and make the connection between all those questions. It would have made my life a lot easier when I designed specifications for a demolition if I had actually done a demolition. When you come out of college you have the math and science behind what you are doing; and that is great. But when you are writing the specs about how it is getting built in the field it’s definitely a difficult task if you have never been out there.
You learn from your mistakes too. It is all part of the learning process. In my career, I’ve been in demo field at least 17 years and I’m still learning. Every project is unique and that is what I like about being in this business. Every day there is a unique problem to be solved and every project is different.
Going back to original question; I would also not have gotten so frustrated when I was asked to do plans. To me, drafting plans was just paper work. But now I really appreciate the time I spent doing that work because planning is one of the most important parts of every project; as I have been saying this entire interview. We generate a tremendous amount of documents on one project but it all pays off because we get the project done on time, correctly and most importantly safely. Q: Is there any other wisdom you would like to impart on our readers before we wrap up?
I can’t stress enough that everybody has families and friends and parents, and you don’t want them to leave injured from your job site in any way shape or form and the only way you are going to do that is with planning, planning, and more planning. Getting the job done right for the client is important; but not at the risk of safety. To me if one person gets injured on a project that is not a successful project. We could have built the most amazing monument to society but if one person gets injured what was it worth? I don’t want to go to anyone’s funeral. A person’s life is priceless and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that everything is planned right and that safety is a priority.
Sometimes people lose track of that because a project gets behind schedule and they say keep pushing, keep pushing. But if you push too hard something is going to happen. I don’t care what they are doing, construction, demolition, whatever it is, you have to take a step back and ask; is this being done safely? I know at R Baker and Sons, we do that every day.
Thanks again Damon for taking the time out to talk with me and give the readers some great advice. We look forward to hearing more from you.
So what questions do you have for Damon? Write them in the comments and we can get them answered by the man himself.