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Engineers told to consider safety consequences of cost-cutting

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ENGINEERS WERE warned this week not to jeopardise structural safety by producing cut-price, low-quality designs.

Pressure to maximise profits is forcing contractors and consultants to produce simplified, less robust structures, experts told delegates at the ICE Structural Safety Across the Lifespan of Buildings conference in London.

British Nuclear Group principal engineer Chris Bolton warned that 'aggressive costcutting and the rejection of quality and inspection constraints, effectively cutting corners, can have severe and unforeseen consequences should part of the structure fail'.

Bolton told NCE that consultants must ensure that structures are robust: 'If the client says 'I don't want robustness' it is the duty of the engineer to build it in and inform the client that he is doing so.' Another expert noted that money saved by clients who cut costs on projects would be paid out in the end, either through major maintenance issues or, at worse, catastrophic failure.

Experts also said that although engineers are adhering to design codes they are not adequately considering the consequences of structural failure.

Gifford chairman Geoff Clifton warned: 'Too often they [engineers] calculate to a code of practice, instead of stepping back and looking at the true consequences of failure.' Clifton illustrated his point by referring to the design of the failed New Orleans dykes that were only able to withstand a 1:100 year event.

'People use the same margin of safety for New Orleans as you would when designing a retaining wall at the bottom of someone's garden, ' he said.

Bolton agreed and added: 'The key is protecting structures against failure with a level of confidence proportional to its importance. The more important it is, the more confidence you need.' The Department for Communities and Local Government is currently reviewing building regulations to try and address the issue of robustness, and Clifton is chairing a task group that hopes to publish advice on designing for robustness next year.

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