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Whistle blowers gagged by fears of litigation


STRUCTURAL SAFETY could be under increasing threat from continued claims, litigation, arbitration and criminal proceedings inhibiting a learning culture within the construction industry.

This conclusion is included in the 13th biennial report from the ICE/IstructE backed Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS). It highlights the need for the profession to be aware of 'commercial or other pressures' which could affect competence and increase risks to structural safety.

SCOSS says it is 'attracted' by proposals to launch a new confidential reporting system to help the construction industry disseminate sensitive and often vital information.

NCE worked with SCOSS in 1998 to launch a pilot reporting scheme known as CROSS (NCE 9/16 April 1998). The latest report urges engineers to give their views on whether such a scheme - similar to those used by the air and shipping industries - would be useful or effective.

The report also makes reference to the problems at the Millennium Bridge in London and warns that design innovation inherently introduces risks which, if not properly controlled, could lead to potentially disastrous structural problems.

'It is therefore important for designers to recognise that current codes may not cover all matters of design that can affect structural safety, ' the report says. In particular the design of dynamically responsive structures is 'not sufficiently well covered in the education and formation of civil and structural engineers.'

SCOSS has for the first time presented its findings thematically in an attempt to group together the results of its discussions over the last two years. Its 17 key conclusions cover the control of risks to structural safety, dynamic response of structures, naturally occurring environmental hazards including climate change and the duties on engineers to warn and heed warning.

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