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High risk structures face mandatory inspection regime

MANDATORY REGULAR independent inspections of stadia, multistorey car parks, shopping malls and other high risk structures are being considered by the Government after pressure from engineering and motoring representatives.

A Health & Safety Executive spokesman confirmed this week it had held a preliminary meeting with the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions in response to an initiative by the joint Institutions of Civil and Structural Engineers' Standing Committee on Structural Safety.

'After receiving a letter from SCOSS, safety minister Alan Meale has asked us to consider various approaches to ensuring the safety of structures,' the HSE spokesman said. 'All options will be considered, including new legislation.'

Top of the agenda will be the question of jurisdiction, the spokesman said, particularly who will be responsible for enforcement if legislation is introduced. 'The HSE is not set up to carry out routine inspections itself,' he added. 'That would be like asking the police to carry out MOT tests.'

The move pre-dated a call last week by the Automobile Association for compulsory annual inspections of multistorey car parks. This followed the partial collapse of a 30 year old concrete car park in Wolverhampton two years ago (NCE 31 March 1997).

AA head of roads and transport policy Paul Watters said mandatory inspections were necessary, as not all car park operators were carrying out sufficient maintenance. 'Road bridges have to be inspected on a yearly basis, so why not car parks, where the potential for injury or loss of life is just as great,' he asked.

But an AA spokesman later denied its call was linked to the SCOSS initiative. 'We simply felt enough time had elapsed since the Wolverhampton collapse and that nothing was being done,' he said. 'But we would support SCOSS's efforts to improve public health and safety.'

SCOSS secretary Dr John Menzies said its approach to Government was made after growing concerns over public safety in all structures which house large numbers of people, including car parks. 'But we are becoming particularly concerned about some of the adventurous new structures being designed and built at the moment, especially grandstands and the roofs over shopping malls.

'These often have a very low level of redundancy, and any failure is likely to be catastrophic.'

Structures like these should be subject to the same sort of independent design checks and routine inspections that are applied to major bridges, Menzies said. 'The problem is that specialist expertise is needed to carry out such checks when the structures are innovative - just being a member of ICE or IStructE wouldn't be enough.'

Such problems are expected to occupy the HSE and the DETR once the jurisdiction issue is resolved. High risk structures would have to be defined, inspection procedures developed and agreed and an inspector accreditation scheme set up. How all this relates to current Construction (Design & Management) Regulations - which do not apply to older structures - would have to be considered.

Menzies said he did not expect a formal response to SCOSS' letter 'before the New Year'. He added: 'If they don't come back to us soon after then we'll start chasing them.'

The HSE spokesman said there was no timetable for the discussions currently taking place. 'This is a very complex issue which will need a lot of detailed consideration,' he added.

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