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12 May, 2009 - 10:13 By Staff Reporter

RVA Group managing director, Richard Vann

RVA Group managing director, Richard Vann

"The current climate is causing many less scrupulous companies to take shortcuts. Organisations are understandably focused on closing down their factories and plants in the swiftest and most cost-effective manner possible."

Backgrounder:

Ipswich-based RVA Group is a specialist engineering consultancy, providing project management and CDM (health and safety) co-ordination for large scale decommissioning, decontamination, dismantling and demolition projects (‘the four Ds’).

Established in 1992, RVA’s team of 18 technical experts comprises EHS (Environment, Health and Safety) professionals, experienced chemical, demolition, explosives, civil and mechanical engineers, risk managers, and planning consultants, who have tackled hundreds of challenging scenarios in sectors ranging from pharmaceuticals, to paper manufacturing and nuclear power.

Managing director Richard Vann – past president of the Institute of Demolition Engineers (IDE) and the Institute of Explosive Engineers (IExpE) – has over 26 years demolition and decommissioning experience, and still plays a pivotal role in shaping industry developments. 1) What is your business model? When RVA Group was established I felt there was a gap in the industry that our area of engineering specialism could fill, so I set about testing the market to confirm that demand for the new concept existed. Seventeen years later, the business – and our reputation – has grown and we are now well placed to maintain our position as the number one provider of holistic decommissioning expertise.

RVA has remained an exclusively client-facing organisation throughout, dedicated to adding value and delivering cost-effective solutions for complex projects. Ultimately however, EHS excellence is our non-negotiable priority.

We don’t operate a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Our ethos is to develop and encourage tripartite involvement and communication between client, contractor and consultant. This ensures a bespoke, well-managed engineering solution, and challenges are resolved more efficiently as they arise. 2) In what industry sectors are you seeing the most growth and retreat? We are seeing most growth in the petrochemical, pharmaceutical and manufacturing sectors. Globally, the number of production facilities being mothballed or closed each week is staggering. Therefore many more clients are looking to manage the decommissioning – and in many cases the dismantling or demolition – of their facilities safely.

In contrast, we are doing less work for property development and city centre regeneration clients, as projects are postponed in light of the economic downturn.

We understand that our market is prone to change of emphasis. Some industries just come and go. For example, whilst former collieries presented an important sector for us in the ‘90’s, this is obviously no longer the case. Yet 17 years ago, no-one was focusing on decommissioning in the oil and gas sector but this has now come to the forefront. 3) How has decommissioning work changed over the past 20 years? It could certainly be argued that decommissioning work has become more complex. We are now faced with larger and more sophisticated installations – such as world-scale chemical plants – that have reached their end of life, increasing the need for specialist engineering support.

Legislation has also become more stringent and environmental awareness is much stronger, therefore we have had to develop more innovative solutions.

Yet ever-changing technology and improved knowledge does mean that we are able to offer much safer, innovative, and cost-effective solutions. The use of explosives and detonation systems are more precise for example, and specifically designed equipment is now commonly used to access hazardous areas where previously operatives may have been unavoidably placed at risk. 4) Which are the toughest and easiest sectors to decommission? It is hard to pinpoint the toughest and easiest sectors, as every single job has the ability to present challenges. Often we face difficulties because of the make-up of a structure, or the process nature of the plant during its operational life.

For example, facilities on a former chemical site may once have housed corrosive or toxic substances that have to be removed by strictly controlled methods to prevent operative and third party exposure.

However we could be decommissioning a simply constructed building located immediately adjacent to a railway line, which equally requires a great amount of preparation.

Whilst a job is perhaps never easy, with comprehensive planning and the careful assembly of a competent project team, it is work in which we can thrive. 5) What kind of effect is the economic downturn having on RVA? We are faced with many new opportunities, but challenges also. On the one hand, demand for our specialist expertise is strong, due to the increasing number of large scale industrial site closures. Also, because the economic downturn is an issue of global relevance, our consulting know-ledge is being exported overseas.

Last year for example we provided specialist engineering and EHS support on a complex dismantling and demolition project in Turkmenistan, in response to a plea for help from a local client.

But like any business we are actively aware of the economic situation. Some of the projects we thought were going ahead have been shelved whilst clients reconsider their expenditure, so we are working hard to ensure the continuous delivery of bespoke yet cost-effective solutions during the downturn

For example, we have developed a unique, index-linked de-risking mechanism to assist in fairly evaluating project pricing, ultimately protecting clients and contractors from the volatility of scrap commodity market values.

We are also finding that our feasibility and option study services are able to provide clients with a clear view of the true liability of their decommissioning projects.

This often gives them sufficient data and confidence to proceed down an avenue they thought had been closed to them, due to false perceptions of the total costs involved. 6) What about the wider decommissioning market? The current climate is causing many less scrupulous companies to take shortcuts. Organisations are understandably focused on closing down their factories and plants in the swiftest and most cost-effective manner possible.

However clients can’t lose sight of the fact that decommissioning is not a straightforward process, nor should it be rushed to achieve an accelerated exit.

Even with best intentions at heart, when money is tight the eye can come off the ‘EHS ball’ and that is something no-one can afford. The downturn doesn’t mean hazards are any less onerous, or laws can be flaunted. 7) Can a former chemical works ever be fully decommissioned – safe and fit for general reuse? We regularly co-ordinate and project manage the full decommissioning of former chemical works. We ensure that the job is carried out to an indisputable standard, thus plant and equipment is made safe whether for reuse or scrap.

We are able to treat and remove contamination even if it is in the ground, so that the site can be taken back to a brownfield state or redeveloped.

The level of decontamination required depends upon the future use of the site. If the area is going to house another chemical plant, we would perhaps leave the ground slab in-situ.

However, if our client is a property developer wishing to build a new housing estate, we would ensure ground decontamination is undertaken to the required standard and certified accordingly.

8) Do you have any plans for physical or international expansion? Having grown steadily and organically since 1992 I am keen for this momentum to continue. However our ongoing expansion will, as always, be undertaken carefully so as not to downgrade our EHS excellence or ability to deliver customised solutions. Our client portfolio to date comprises many of the world’s largest companies.

Coupled with the fact that we have already successfully exported our expertise – and are continuing to receive enquiries on an international basis – I believe we are well placed to take our position as number one in the UK to the international marketplace. 9) What are your plans for the company over the medium to long term? We continuously strive to make our support functions more robust. Throughout the remainder of 2009 for example, we will be boosting our health and safety department, working proactively to expand upon our environmental awareness and under-taking additional training. This should allow us to remain not only abreast of industry standards but ahead of market developments.

The achievement of safety excellence is always at the top of our ‘to do’ list, and over the next three, five or 10 years – however long it takes – we want to continue to educate companies as to the importance of making sure a decommissioning project is properly managed.

We already voluntarily hold safety, resourcing and advisory presentations with companies facing closure, not because we have an agenda, but because we are passionate that deco-mmissioning is not viewed merely as an extension of normal operations.

For most organisations ‘the four D’s’ constitute a step into the unknown. We therefore want to help build a management tool that clients can use to weigh up the pro’s and con’s of their scenario. They can then make an informed decision as to whether to conduct the decommissioning now, or defer the project to a later date. 10) What are your biggest challenges going forward? Whilst pressures are being placed on companies on an unprecedented scale, one of our biggest challenges is making potential clients aware that we are providing a value adding service, which in many cases can be self-funding or better.

Not only do we ensure safety compliance and the satisfaction of legislative duties, but also we deliver cost effective solutions that can in fact help to alleviate a financially difficult situation.

Also misconceptions still exist surrounding the level of standards embraced by the decommissioning sector, but RVA is working hard to raise the bar.

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