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Better safe . . .

What do you do once the safety hazard you spotted has been corrected? Do you warn your colleagues in confidence, submit a formal report to management, or contact the appropriate professional body? Or do you keep it to yourself, cross your fingers and hope nobody noticed?

As the Standing Committee on Structural Safety can confirm from long experience, you are least likely to pass on the information to any official body. There are many understandable reasons for this reluctance: loyalty to colleagues and employers, fear of embarrassing clients, pressure from company lawyers, simple lack of time. And how many civil engineers remember the responsibilities laid on them by the Institution's rules for professional conduct?

But, natural and understandable as this reluctance may be, it is still extremely short-sighted. Those who fail to make the profession aware of a particular safety hazard have to accept the risk that they may fall foul of a hazard someone else failed to report. And every hazard that is missed can result in more bad press for the profession and less public respect for its practitioners. Witness the controversy that followed NCE's recent reports of the advanced low water corrosion of steel piles and the thaumasite sulphate attack on concrete motorway bridges.

So the proposals for a confidential hotline on the safety of structures described on page 20 can only be welcomed by civil and structural engineers alike.

Yes, there are a lot of details still to be resolved, not least the question of funding. Nevertheless, the underlying principles are sound, and the scheme is an idea whose time has come.

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