Crossing borders - Brown & Mason in Hungary
By Lindsay Gale27 July 2011
Lindsay Gale talked with Nick and Lee Brown, from the UK’s Brown & Mason, about their operation in Hungary where they are demolishing a power station near Budapest
Brown & Mason is currently conducting the demolition of seven boiler houses and an electrical building at the Dunamenti Power Plant just outside the Hungarian capital of Budapest, a demolition task with a contract value of some Euro 10 million (US$14 million).
Explosives specialists often ply their trade outside of their own country, but it is much rarer for a general demolition contractor to do so. Brown & Mason operations director Nick Brown explained the background to his company's move into foreign fields.
"It was a bit of luck really. Back in 2007, we were asked to tender for the demolition of a concrete framed building here at the power plant but we felt that we would not be competitive so we declined to tender.
"But at the time we said we would be interested in any heavier industrial type work that might come up." The company was subsequently invited to tender for the current job by the Dunamenti Power Plant, owned by GDF Suez, and won the contract.
Nick explained: "With the downturn, in 2009 the UK was a difficult market, so we were willing to go where the work was. We have been looking Europe-wide for potential contracts we could go for in heavy industrial demolition in the power industry, pharmaceuticals, chemical etc. So the job was very attractive to us."
This is something that Brown & Mason is hoping might lead to further work in Easter Europe, something that Nick is keen to see.
"We hope to get more work in the region - not just Hungary but the whole eastern Europe region. GDF Suez is a blue chip company and working indirectly with them will hopefully have a knock-on effect for us in terms of reputation."
To carry out the work, which commenced in 2010, Brown & Mason Hungary Limited was registered with the relevant authorities in the country. It was this process that Nick considered to be the major challenge of the entire contract.
He explained: "We were here during the entire tender process, which gave us the opportunity to explore exactly what we would need to do to carry out work in Hungary - could we just operate as a UK firm in the country without registering. However, Hungary's laws said that we could not do that. We had to be registered."
The work at the Dunamenti plant involves the full asbestos removal and decontamination of the seven boiler houses and a concrete electrical building, the subsequent dismantling of the boiler houses and demolition of the concrete structure, along with all associated groundworks.
A scaffold structure is erected around the boilers, fully enclosed and pressurised and the asbestos removed in just the same way as in the UK.
Nick said: "The laws governing asbestos removal are almost the same as in the UK and we therefore have to handle the process exactly the same."
The steel that results from the dismantling of the boiler house structures is cut to size and then stockpiled on site for the client to dispose of for recycling.
Currently Brown & Mason is dismantling the first boiler house just inside the power plant, with asbestos removal being carried out on the others that extend in a line into the heart of the plant, and each will then be dismantled in turn.
In total, the company expects to deal with some 6,000 tonnes of asbestos and 12,000 tonnes of steel plus a substantial volume of concrete during the course of the contract.
Logistically, the contract is not a difficult one for Brown & Mason, despite the fact that the majority of the equipment on site has come from the UK.
Nick said: "We have done a lot of work in Northern Ireland, with equipment transported across the Irish Sea, so we are used to moving kit around. All the major equipment, with the exception of a Sennebogen crane that has been hired locally, has come from the UK.
"A lorry comes to Budapest from our depot in Kent once a week to meet any equipment or supply needs we might have. Literally, it is motorway all the way through Europe almost right to the end of the road at the plant, so transport is not an issue.
"Any equipment or supplies we cannot source locally, we just load on the lorry coming from the UK."
In some instances, local businesses that did not stock certain items that originally had to come from the UK when Brown & Mason began work at the plant have now added them to their stock, since they are keen to work with Brown & Mason.
Lee said: "As soon as they realise that you are a serious company and are going to be here for a period of time, they will get items for you, with a lot coming from Austria or Slovakia."
Currently operating on site are a Komatsu 450, a Komatsu 210 and a Komatsu 130, joined by a Fuchs material handler and a 16 head DCU, all of which came out from the UK.
A 250 tonne Sennebogen crawler crane, telehandlers and MEWPs have been hired locally to complete the equipment line-up.
Twelve UK employees form the core of the workforce on site, joined by a number of Hungarian engineers, with Hungarian operatives making up the rest of the workforce.
At first glance, language difficulties might be thought to be a potential major obstacle to working in this way, but Nick was relaxed about it.
"Communication with the client is in English and we have employed good translators to be on site for day-to-day needs. The British might be a bit lazy when it comes to foreign languages, but the standard of English here is generally very good."
A workforce speaking two languages imposes some special requirements, however - all site signage has to be in both English and Hungarian, for one thing.
The company has rented accommodation for its UK personnel, with the work programme set up so that work is carried out during four 12 hour shifts, Monday to Thursday.
Nick said: "It's only a two hour flight to the UK. They travel back to the UK early Friday morning and return Sunday evening. That way they get the full weekend at home and we get the productivity we need. Our people are used to travelling and working in this way, so it is not an issue."
But this way of working has evolved over time. Nick explained: "Initially, we started with a five day week but that really did not work properly. The way we do it now, however, works very well."
However, sourcing local personnel was a major issue. While there is a plentiful supply of unskilled labour in Hungary who are willing and eager workers, the supply of skilled and experienced demolition operatives is limited.
But Nick said: "We now have a core of extremely willing operatives who will remain with us to the end of the contract, which should be in September 2013. The number of workers on site will fluctuate from 60 up to 100 at various stages of the contract."
With two years still to run on the contract, Brown & Mason has substantial work ahead of it, with hopes for more in the region in the future. Perhaps the languages skills of its UK personnel might be enhanced by the experience.