Author: Bass, A J;Mottram, J T
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Bass, A J;Mottram, J T
The recent explosion in the number of universities provides an opportune occasion to reflect briefly on the changes that have taken place in academia generally and in structural engineering at the University of Birmingham in particular. The accelerating pace of change has become especially marked in the last decade and this is well illustrated by the changes which have taken place within civil engineering at Birmingham. Not least among these changes was the transition in 1988 from a Department to a School when Civil Engineering became a budget centre responsible for all its own staff costs, for example, and the newly formed School manifestly displayed a financial accountability comparable with any large department within an industrial organisation. Professor B.P. Hughes and Professor L.A. Clark
Engineers during the latter 1980s suffered the trauma of persistent requests for the provision of collateral warranties. These were given as a consequence of the engineer’s input on a building project, such warranties being executed in favour of funding institutions and future tenants or purchasers of the property. These were individuals with whom the engineer, without the existence of the warranty, would not have had a contractual relationship. These were deemed necessary because of the demise in tortious liability. The warranties were an attempt to ensure that the tenant, the purchaser or the fund whose prime asset would be the completed structure would have had some perceived recourse in the event of there being defects within the structure that may or may not have been due to default on the part of the structural engineer. Because of the amount of wasted efforts and costs being incurred in examining the wording of warranties, which were all different, standard forms of warranty have been produced with the approval of the British Property Federation, with the cooperation of the professional institutions. It is hoped that these standard forms will meet with greater, if not universal, use. Jeffrey Brown
A career in private practice can be rewarding for those engineers prepared to be masters of their own ship. However, such positions involve a considerable amount of responsibility and can involve risks that go far beyond the usual commercial considerations of running one’s own business. Unlike many commercial enterprises, professionals often carry a unique burden that arises from the nature of the services that they provide to their clients. In short, the fees charged by professionals are usually a tiny fraction of the potential loss that could be suffered by the client in the event that the professional’s advice is incorrect. Such an unbalanced ‘risk reward’ ratio is particularly pronounced within the construction industry where an engineer’s design fee might only be a small percentage of the overall capital cost of the contract. In a ‘worst-case’ scenario this could produce a claim many times the capital cost and there are certain characteristics of the construction industry that can exacerbate this position: 1. Building structures tend to be high-value items, and as a result, this can mean that repair costs can be significant in the event of a design error. 2. The construction process often involves numerous parties with differing responsibilities, and this can create an inherent degree of friction and disagreement. 3. Consequential loss can be substantial in the event that a building user is unable to conduct his business while repairs are being undertaken. 4. There is always the possibility of bodily-injury claims as a result of structural collapse bringing the possibility of a criminal prosecution as well as a civil claim, where damages are often very sizeable. 5. In the current economic climate, clients’ expectations are always demanding, but this is seldom commensurate with their willingness to pay an adequate fee for the job. F.W. Chappell