Across the world, the Irish heritage is celebrated through construction endeavour. In Durban, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, Eire Contractors has enhanced that global reputation to become one of the city’s leading building contractors, with a suite of high profile projects on some of southern Africa’s main construction and infrastructure projects.
The business was started in 1988 by John Moffatt, who continues as CEO and Managing Director to this day. The company takes its name from Moffatt’s family heritage; his father arrived in South Africa from Ireland in the late 1940s and when the time came to find a name for the fledgling business, it made perfect sense to name it after Ireland.
The company is renowned for its drilling and blasting capabilities with a vast array of specialist machinery, having started out with just 3 track rigs which it had leased from Ingersol Rand.
Looking back in 2012, Moffatt recalled making the decision to start out on his own, having worked for a similar company. By the beginning of last year the company had increased its range of machinery to 26 hydraulic rigs, giving it one of the largest plant holdings in southern Africa and providing the scope for Eire Contractors to work on large and small projects.
The company has worked on a broad range of projects over the years, including construction projects like the Bedford Dam, Maguga Dam and Berg River. The company’s blasting capabilities have consequently given it the perfect profile for many of the major infrastructure projects taking place across the region.
The Berg River dam project is a perfect example of Eire Contractors’ expertise. In 2005 the R10 million blasting contract was subcontracted by the Berg River Project Joint Venture (BRPJV) to the company.
At the time, John Moffatt outlined to Engineering News that the Berg Water dam comprised of three operations: a presplit blast, a bulk blast and a trim operation.
The presplit blast, in which 20,000 square metres of rock was blasted, was used to produce a discontinuity to limit overbreak and to produce a solid wall.
“Should the rock break deeper than the design level, it will have to be replaced by concrete,” Moffatt stated, “we blasted to a level above the design level and then took the remaining rock out by smaller blasts and also by using a rockbreaker hammer to reduce the overbreak as much as possible,” he added.
Such intricate challenges are typical for Eire Contractors; at the Berg River project, the blasting work formed part of the overall excavation of the diversion works and took place before the concreting phase of the excavated structures.
“The blasting had to progress fast enough to keep far enough ahead of the concreting so that vibrations from the blast experienced at the nearest concrete did not exceed the strict limits set,” Moffatt recalled.
“No work has been subcontracted as we need people specifically used to operating and supporting very specialised machinery and we have all these skills in-house,” Moffatt said at the time.
Perhaps this telling statement underlines one of the key components to Eire Contractors’ success. At the time of the Berg River project, Moffatt affirmed that the company used its own skilled team, employing very little labour, with qualified safety skills a pre-requisite for anyone working with the rigs.
The Berg Water project helped Eire Contractors to expand its footprint in the Cape and, since its establishment in 1988, the company has grown into a national business, with further experience working cross-border, into surrounding countries such as Swaziland and Mozambique.
By early 2012, with a modern fleet of lowbeds and explosive trucks, the company had started work on two 3 year projects north of the border in Botswana and Zambia, and had become the first South African firm to employ full-time surveyors to ensure quality control and provide better customer service.
Moffatt has publicly acknowledged the current opportunities presented by mining and quarrying contracts; assisted with the recent development of coal, diamond, gold, manganese, platinum and silica mines across the SADC region and West Africa.
Alongside these projects, the company has also provided demolition services for a number of bridge and site-leveling projects, including the Bosport Dam Spillway.
The company can also be seen on road and rail construction projects and was notably involved with the construction of the N2 – one of the largest civil engineering blasts on record in South Africa.
Working outside of South Africa presents it owns set of challenges of course, with Moffatt citing logistics as one of the biggest problems – in particular the need to get the right parts and equipment on-site and on-time.
To negate the problem in Zambia, the company purchased a couple of trucks for the express purpose of transporting parts, rather than relying on third party transporters.
With a staff compliment of approximately 350 people, Eire Contractors has assembled a strong team of mechanics who play a vital role in maintaining machinery and vehicles.
The company culture is one that strives to encourage independent decision-making with managerial guidance provided, rather than dictated. The bulk of the management and operational team have themselves worked their way through the company ranks, with internal training and experience, while Eire Contractors still retains employees that have been with the business from Day One.
Staff loyalty is one aspect of its enduring success, but for Eire Contractors, customer loyalty is equally paramount. The company primarily relies on referrals for future work, rendering quality performance and delivery absolutely essential if the satisfied customer is to pass on the good word.
With Moffatt at the helm for the past 25 years, Eire Contractors has grown significantly – the next phase will be the transition of management from father to son, whilst operationally, the company maintains it growth in a sustainable manner.