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Disputes law threatens safety claims SCOSS

LEGISLATION AIMED at reducing contractual disputes could have 'serious consequences for construction safety', a leading industry watchdog has warned.

Standing Committee on Structural Safety chairman Professor Anthony Kelly has written to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions expressing safety concerns over the 1996 Construction Act and the Scheme for Construction Contracts.

SCOSS - a safety body established by the Institutions of Civil and Structural Engineers - believes both the Act and SCC downplay the importance of safety and would allow 'unqualified' adjudicators to make decisions which could undermine the integrity of structures.

Finalising the SCC will be the last stage in the implementation of the 1996 Construction Act, which gives adjudicators wide ranging powers to tackle disputes as well as trying to establish a fair payment regime. And while construction minister Nick Raynsford has pushed hard to get the SCC through the Commons, many still claim that the SCC remains heavily flawed (NCE 15 January).

Kelly warns DETR that failure to make changes to the Act and scheme may lead to 'some fatal tragedy'. He adds that there appears to be no recognition in the Act or Scheme that the adjudicator might be called on to make technical, as well as contractual, decisions. Nor, claims SCOSS, does DETR take full account of the safety implications of decisions affecting incomplete structures. For example, SCOSS believes the timescale laid down in the Act for reaching decisions might lead to 'excessively hasty decisions, [which] without adequate investigation, are liable to be unsound and dangerous'.

Kelly adds: 'At present, there are significant numbers of lawyers and quantity surveyors being put forward . . . qualified to act as adjudicators, but they have no technical expertise'.

With the SCC due to be debated in the Commons soon, SCOSS is refocusing its efforts on getting changes made after the Act becomes law. Raynsford has said changes may be made once it has been 'in force for some time'.

Alastair McLellan

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