Proposals for the biggest ever change in UK codified structural design are sitting in deputy prime minister John Prescott's in-tray. Dave Parker reports.
It has taken a quarter of a century, but at long last the structural Eurocodes are upon us. Over the next three years 10 codes in all will appear as British Standards, beginning with BS EN 1990 Basis of Structural Design and ending - probably - with BS EN 1999 Design of Aluminium Structures in late 2006/early 2007.
It is hoped that by 2010 the British Standards Institution will, after publishing all the new codes, have completed the withdrawal of the equivalent British Standards.
Every designer in Europe will work to essentially the same codes, creating, it is believed, significant opportunity to increase the export of design services, estimated to be worth £1.5bn annually.
These new standards will be mandatory for all public works under the European Union's Public Procurement Directive. The old documents will no longer be recognised as an acceptable means of demonstrating compliance with UK Building Regulations. But before the 30year saga of the Eurocodes is over, there are many shoals to be negotiated.
The most dangerous of these, according to the IStructE, is inaction. Its report to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) warns: 'Without proper investment in support, design costs will rise substantially. Worse, mistakes may occur, with potential implications for safety.'
By support, the report means the provision of adequate authoritative guidance documents, software and training packages. It points out that some sectors, such as geotechnical, lack the research and trade organisations found in the concrete and steel sectors.
And there is no basis for complacency among steel and concrete designers, it adds.
Much of the supporting Eurocode guidance and software already published by bodies like the Steel Construction Institute and the Building Research Establishment will have to be heavily revised, as it was based on the draft standards circulated for trial and comment (see box).
The final versions of several of the codes will incorporate many of the changes suggested during this trial period, and will be significantly different to the draft.
To be authoritative, revisions to supporting documents will have to await the publication of the appropriate National Annexes (see box), which have to be finalised within two years of the official handover of the main text from European standards body CEN to the UK's BSI. And those drafting these annexes will also have to pay particular attention to a little-known hazard that could delay the whole programme The fact is that Eurocodes and British design codes do not overlap 100%. Each time an annex is drafted the drafters will have to decide what to do with the material within the standard marked for withdrawal that is not superseded by the Eurocode. This could be incorporated into the annex, published as a guidance document, or re-issued as a new British Standard.
'Significant resources will be required to identify the residual material, ' the IStructE warns, adding: 'If the finalisation of the National Annexes is not to be delayed, decisions on the fate of material from these [withdrawn] standards need to be reached quickly.'
However, it believes the ODPM has accepted the need to fund the development of guidance to the two crucial Eurocodes that have to be used in conjunction with all the other eight. EN 1990 and EN 1991 'Actions on Structures' are not 'owned' by any particular sector of the construction industry and there is no natural focus for the provision of guidance.
And the IStructE warns: 'EN 1991 is perceived as being complicated to apply and therefore difficulties with its implementation are envisaged.'
In all the Institution believes the government must invest at least £10M in smoothing the switchover.
Its report runs to some 93 pages.
Some may argue over the fine print, but the report makes one thing abundantly clear.
This is no false alarm. This time the wolf is coming. The Eurocodes are a reality - and action is needed urgently if their introduction is not to be a chaotic farce.