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Lest we forget

Every two years the Standing Committee on Structural Safety publishes its current concerns about threats to structural safety. Its recommendations are incisive, well considered and far-reaching. The latest report is no exception.

It points out that the world today has greater commercial pressures, greater competitive pressures and that the drive towards efficiency can easily blur the distinction between cost and price. All these factors stack up to threaten the margins left for safety.

Over the last five years the industry has been almost religiously focussed on meeting the demands of first the Latham review and then the Egan report. It has tried to become more efficient, use new and novel techniques and maximise the use of scarce resources.

Whenever a structure fails it is fairly certain the results will be tragic. And in just about every case, investigations reveal simple errors usually brought about by commercial or time pressures. Whether it is a Carsington Dam collapse, a Ramsgate Walkway failure or Heathrow Express tunnel cave-in, the immediate reaction is to stop it ever happening again.

To make mistakes has severe consequences. To fail to learn from them is unforgivable.

In its report SCOSS's principle recommendations aim to refocus the industry on its duties to protect public safety from the cold, remorseless world run by accountants. Giving engineers the tools and confidence to operate is the start.

SCOSS acknowledges the debt owed to its founder Sir Alfred Pugsley for his ability to explain to the profession the basics of structural safety. Whether it was the R101 disaster, the Tacoma Narrows collapse or the Comet aircraft crashes, he was able to turn the disaster into a valuable learning experience - one that the profession and a wider audience heard.

Sir Alfred is no longer with us, but his values continue through the work of SCOSS. So either ring up the ICE or IStructE and get hold of a copy of the 12th SCOSS report or visit its website for the recommendations and discussion. For forward thinking professionals it is certainly recommended reading for this week.

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