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Getting to the bottom of Grenfell

Grenfell pa (27)

Any fatal incident is a tragedy. The tragedy of Grenfell is even more awful given the apparent forewarnings of danger.  

I applaud your call for systemic failures to be tackled.  However, I must counter reference to “value engineering” in your leading article (New Civil Engineer, August).  Cost and value are quite different concepts.  Although bad practice can happen, this is no reason to blame a tool. Engineers should implement good practice to tackle “dreaded” bad practice and negligent action.  

Value engineering in line with the British Standard BS EN12973 Value Management is a successful and powerful tool which should deliver better performance and better value for money. 

In my experience of high-rise buildings in the UK, Europe and the Middle East, value engineering studies have always helped people design, deliver and manage safe sustainable solutions that create good social and economic returns from the available money, time and effort.   

It is vital that the Grenfell inquiry gets to the root causes of systemic and local failures. What systems, circumstances, actions, inactions, (in)competence, (un)conscious bias and decisions led to the tragedy?  How can we respond?  Perhaps the ICE Code of Practice offers many salient points which could be built on to verify and assure professional competence for work.   

  • Michael Graham (M)

Your article “Tragedy could be a game changer for the legal landscape” echoes public concern that prosecutions around the Grenfell tragedy would be likely to target corporate bodies and not individuals. However  it is important to remember Section 37 of the Health & Safety at Work Act, which provides that: “Where an offence under any of the relevant statutory provisions committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to have been attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate or a person who was purporting to act in any such capacity, he as well as the body corporate shall be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against”.

Individuals could potentially be prosecuted under this section of the Health & Safety at Work Act and given the penalties set out in the Sentencing Council’s “Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences - definitive guideline”. If found guilty they could face periods of imprisonment.

  • Donald Lamont (F)

I may be losing it, but even in the days of competent Planning Supervisors and later CDM Coordinators, risk assessments concerning construction, operation and maintenance were mandatory and if not common sense, best practice.

Competency was and still remains a key issue but integrated teams (client, designers and contractors) collectively should address risk assessments at an early stage. I believe they do.

But once designs are finalised, clients have to see implementation and then perhaps the link with the design parties becomes weak and leads to scenarios like that at Grenfell Tower?

Nigel Craddock (M retd)

Carbon Contradiction

Your account of the Uff review and the outright rejection of its author’s recommendation that the professional engineering institutions (PEIs) should be combined reminded me of a lesson learned early in my career (New Civil Engineer, July 2017). The sewage treatment plants of a number of small, adjacent cities discharged treated effluent to a river within a few kilometres of each other. The plants were old and needed to be upgraded. I developed a plan that would consolidate treatment at a single state-of-the-art plant and abandon the individual, outdated plants. The technical and economic advantages of consolidation were plain and I could not understand why the operators of the small plants rejected the plan.

By way of explanation, a more worldly colleague quoted Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult for a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it”. Plans to consolidate the PEIs are subject to the same phenomenon.

  • John Davis,

Cars as weapons of mass destruction

Jason le Masurier’s proposal to make the driving of cars by humans illegal (New Civil Engineer, August 2017) is an interesting one, basing it as he does on the precept that every car is a potential weapon of mass destruction. Were this idea to be followed through, the changeover period would be interesting, unless his plan would be to forbid driving and take all cars off the road in one fell swoop, followed by every driver being issued with an autonomous car to replace the one which had been taken from them. That should be an interesting exercise to cost.

Assuming the changeover were practical, and all drivers agreed to it, without any dissent from those who like driving, or who don’t like being told what to do, with autonomous vehicles there would be the potential for some terrorist, or criminal, or other form of psychopath, to take control of all cars and commercial vehicles and wreak havoc. The technology to control cars remotely already exists, and terrorists and criminals have repeatedly shown themselves to be technically competent, so it would not take long before there would be the death and destruction which Le Masurier was trying to prevent, but this time with the aid of advanced technology.

It needs further research, into ways of preventing access to potentially deadly vehicles by terrorists, having first identified who is or isn’t a terrorist, before instituting such a radical plan.

The debate in Parliament should be interesting.

  • Alan Mordey (M)

Garden Bridge spending questioned

Garden bridge arup

Garden bridge arup

Garden Bridge: Spending must be justified

The big question remains how on earth did they manage to spend £46M without doing anything on the ground? Usually in a public-private funded project, the private sector puts its money at risk first and the public purse is most protected against default etc. If the private sector had really put up £70M to help fund it, then this money should be used to cover the costs. The reverse seems to be the case here and I really do question if that was by accident, complete incompetence by the client organisation or design on the part of all the various parties to this fiasco.

  • Philip Alexander, posted online on article headed “Canned Garden Bridge Trust to explain public spending”

Our profession has not covered itself with glory on this sorry tale.

  • John David Gartside, posted online on article headed “Canned Garden Bridge Trust to explain public spending”

£50M of public money wasted on a vanity project. I can’t wait to hear the explanation of how this vast sum of money was spent on design.

  • John Glaister, posted online on article headed “Canned Garden Bridge Trust to explain public spending”

Spreading the word

The evolution of New Civil Engineer now provides more, readable, pieces, in my view, about many aspects of our industry. However, the image problem seems to have been with us for ever (New Civil Engineer, last month). Part of the problem is that you are preaching to the converted.

Until our voice reaches mainstream media, I fear that we will not progress. Newspapers, especially their online editions, and other internet based media have huge circulations.

However, often they do not do justice to the technology or our contribution, which does not solve our problem. Could you offer your services to them to provide pieces on demand or from your extensive archive?  I realise this is more work for your team, but, if it were for the benefit of our profession, perhaps the membership would be happy to fund it.

  • Hugh Williams (M)

Editor’s note: It’s a very good point and for once I can say there is a plan – one of the key tenets of the ICE’s 200th anniversary activities next year is to get civil engineering regularly into the mainstream media – specifically in the bits of the mainstream media watched/read/listened to by mum – as the latest evidence is that “mum” is still the biggest influencer of career choices. So I think the ICE is actually on this one.

Sexism creeps into consultants’ rates

I am a female civil engineer. I run my own successful small consultancy.

I have never had an issue with gender in our industry. I’ve always felt treated just like anyone else – until now.

I am starting to become despondent at the huge pay gaps that are emerging. 

Please, please will my male counterparts explain why they think women should not get paid as much as men?  People I work with just expect me to charge less because I am a woman. 

How can that be right when I have the same training and probably more qualifications, expertise and experience in what I do than practically all my male counterparts?

It’s not about the money, not a penny of it, it’s about dignity and wanting to be a part of an industry that doesn’t take the mick.

Accepting the second lowest bid

I refer to the letter from Alistair Ringer on accepting the second lowest rather than the lowest tender.  While appreciating the objective of avoiding corner cutting poor workmanship etc., would this not in the long term result in progressively higher and higher tenders?

Suppose each tenderer evaluates their lowest price and then each increases it by some percent in order to be the second lowest. The failing lowest tenderer, the next time he submits a bid, will increase the percent added in order to stand a better chance of being second lowest. Should he succeed, the now failing lowest tenderer will up the ante with his next bid, and so on. Would not the natural result of competing to be second lowest be ever-increasing bids?

I seem to remember hearing many years ago that this was tried and then rapidly dropped by some authorities.

  • Andrew Lovatt MICE (Retired)



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