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Storm over poor design standards

Institution news

INADEQUATE DESIGN by engineers is saddling clients with high operating and maintenance costs, a construction industry expert claimed at a recent ICE meeting.

'Many designs today are done by people who do not know what they are doing or why they are doing it, ' claimed Reliability Forum chairman and Health & Safety Executive member Avijit Maitra.

Maitra believes that one in five buildings suffer from reactive maintenance - repair that could not reasonably be expected by the client.

By using design codes purely as a recipe book engineers are failing to develop the feel for structures which is necessary to ensure calculations are appropriate. The standards 'imbue a false sense of confidence that the design is reliable', stated Maitra.

Reactive maintenance is a growing problem for clients.

Although not necessarily causing structural failure, these faults do threaten durability.

Maitra cited the example of a national retail chain which, over five years, spent 3%-4% of its five year capital works budget on reactive maintenance, mostly structural repair. None of the affected structures is more than five years old. All were designed to relevant codes, but design itself lacked the understanding or thought required to produce a reliable structure.

Maitra claimed that design codes cover only 10% of the design process, with designerclient communication, computer analysis, serviceability, durability, maintenance, and deterioration inadequately covered.

'Standards are generally written to address obsolescence and concentrate too heavily on the strength characteristics of materials.' There should be penalties for non-compliance, said Maitra.

There have been efforts to redress the situation. Eurocodes were initially written with a strong emphasis on quality control but were subsequently watered down at the request of UK representatives.

A new code from the UK's Institution of Structural Engineers is due out soon and is to cover, among other things, computer use in the design process and safety and environmental considerations.

The Reliability Forum would welcome contributions from all engineers, either in writing or as an invited guest at a meeting, said Maitra.

Engineers were also urged to play a more active role in the development of codes, through the public comment process. Many engineers bemoan the new wind code, but no comments were made during its development.

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