Two thirds of civil engineers feel unable to confidently use Eurocodes, less than two months before British Standards for structural design are withdrawn, according to the results of an NCE survey.
An online survey of 400 engineers carried out by NCE last month reveals that just 34% of engineers feel comfortable using Eurocodes.
Ignorance is being compounded by a lack of education. Only 29% of respondents said they had received formal training in the new design codes.
Next month the British Standards Institution is withdrawing a total of 57 structural design codes because they are deemed to have been superceded by 58 parts of the 10 new Eurocodes.
From 1 April the withdrawn codes may still be used but they will not be updated and, significantly, public projects in England, Wales and Northern Ireland must be specified using Eurocodes instead.
Widespread training in the new codes has been hampered by the cost to the industry.
The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) estimates that the cost of retraining an office of 16 engineers to be £255,000, or £16,000 per engineer.
A third of engineers polled by NCE said they expected costs to equate to at least 5% of annual fee income.
Consultant Thomasons director Alasdair Beal, writing in the latest edition of the ICE’s Proceedings, says the cost could easily be double that.
“Retraining say 5,000 UK civil and structural engineers in time for the planned changeover could cost £150M and require trainers to provide 75,000 man-days of training.
“In October 2009 there were just 58 institutional training courses listed on the joint ICE/IStructE Eurocodes Expert website.
“In practical terms, UK consulting engineers may struggle to find the staff and the money to cover the training required for the changeover,” he said. Beal warned that local authorities will be particularly exposed.
“The government has given them no extra money to retrain their staff yet, unless this is done, it is difficult to see how they can check Eurocode calculations submitted for [planning approval].”
Eurocode 7 committee member and Eurocode trainer Andrew Bond said the recession was a major factor affecting the slow roll out of training.
“The recession came at the worst time.”
Andrew Bond, Eurocode trainer
“Bigger companies can simply switch their training budgets, but for the smaller companies who do not have such budgets it is a problem.
“They are going to have to find the money and the recession came at the worst time possible,” he said. Bond added that many companies had waited until nearer the deadline before starting staff training to ensure the information remained fresh.
Parsons Brinckerhoff director of bridge and structural engineering Steve Denton, who is also visiting professor at the University of Bath agreed.
“Major investments in training are best made as close as possible to the new standards being used on projects and so I suspect that the statistics on training are changing rapidly.
“Many organisations are certainly rolling out detailed training programmes right now.”
Bond said the short term increase in costs would be outweighed in the medium to long term by efficiency savings as Eurocodes offer engineers more design flexibility.
By contrast just 42% of those responding to the NCE poll expect the switchover to yield material cost savings through more efficient design. Only 15% expect a savings of more than 5%.
The survey also revealed confusion about what should happen on 1 April, with 30% of engineers expecting British Standards to be binned overnight.
“This is the incorrect answer,” said Denton.
“For many ongoing projects, the best course of action is likely to be to complete the work to current national standards even after they have been withdrawn,” he said, adding that it will be important to agree the approach taken with the client and other project stakeholders.
Denton claimed that many organisations are well advanced in their preparations, with NCE’s survey showing that 16% were already adopting them as their preferred standard.
“16% of firms already seem to be using Eurocodes.”
” It is good to see that approaching a quarter of design/ consulting firms already seem to be using Eurocodes as their preferred standards,” he said.
“The transition to Eurocodes will be accompanied by challenges and opportunities.
“The only course of action doomed to failure is to ignore this important shift for the industry.
“Whether we see the change as positive or negative is largely irrelevant. What matters is that we recognise that change is inevitable and we continue to work hard to maximise potential benefits and mitigate risks, at a personal, organisational and national level,” he said.