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Weak management blamed for Ramsgate tragedy


EFFECTIVE PROJECT management is the key to avoiding tragic structural collapses such as the 1994 Ramsgate walkway failure, according to the Health & Safety Executive's official report into the incident published this week.

The report urges all those involved in the training of civil and structural engineers to emphasise the role of project management 'to ensure the safe completion of projects'.

However, the report makes no mention of the continued lack of a specific design code for such ship to shore structures. Funding to prepare an addition to the existing BSI 6349 Maritime Code is still being sought by the ICE.

But despite repeated talks with the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions over the last two years and the recommendation of research body CIRIA's report last April, no funds have been made available.

Maritime code drafting committee member Donald Evans, who with former ICE presidents David Green and Roger Sainsbury has been leading the effort to secure funds, this week vowed to continue lobbying the DETR.

'It is very disappointing but we will be approaching the DETR at a much higher level next,' said Evans. 'We will be meeting in the next few weeks to discuss how we can go forward from here.'

The HSE report said that the issues leading to the tragedy went 'far beyond the field of maritime transport systems' and hoped that all clients, contractors, designers, manufacturers and operators of structural projects would learn a lesson.

But the technical issues leading to the failure, the report says, were 'neither new nor remarkable'. However, it points out that the accident, in which six passengers died and seven were seriously injured, provided 'a salutary lesson about what can happen if insufficient attention is given to managing a project of this nature'.

The walkway collapsed without warning early in the morning while passengers were embarking the Prins Filip ferry. HSE investigators identified a weld failure on one of the structure's supporting stub axles that had caused the collapse but further investigations revealed that a catalogue of design, construction, maintenance and checking errors were at the root of the problems.

The subsequent High Court prosecution of the Swedish designers FEAB and FKAB, operator Port Ramsgate and Lloyd's Register of Shipping who checked the structure resulted in the highest fines ever levied after a single incident. Including costs these totalled £2.4M.

Steps taken since to address the problems include new rules for the Lloyd's Register classification of linkspan structures and a new guide for the procurement, operation and management of linkspans by CIRIA.

Antony Oliver

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