Multiple fatality disasters are often only avoided by timing and luck.
Hosted and held at the Institution of Structural Engineers London HQ recently, an invited audience that included many leading professional institutions in the built environment and client representives met to look “Beyond Edinburgh” and the masonry collapse at Oxgangs School in 2016.
The subsequent Scottish Government Inquiry has identified many direct and indirect contributory factors and the implications are likely to extend far beyond this specific incident.
For many of the professional institutions who operate under charitable objectives for public benefit, there is a deep commitment to consider failings and shortcomings with a view to establishing what needs to be addressed to ensure public safety and provide reassurance and confidence in construction and built environment teams.
Tragic events elsewhere in recent weeks may well in the final analysis share some systemic issues with the case in Edinburgh, reinforcing the stark reality that many incidents are often only avoided by timing and luck.
The inquiry into the collapse at Oxgangs Primary School made a wide range of observations, but the Conference identified clear priorities which require attention:
- Failings in supply chain dynamics and the procurement process
- Failings in skills competency
- Gaps in the design sign-off process and the authorisation of changes on site
- Inadequate supervision and inspection of construction by properly qualified and experienced professionals
- The need to embed the notion of “quality” alongside “safety” as essential components of construction delivery
- The need for professional bodies to help clients understand the responsibilities they carry for construction projects
Institution President, Ian Firth, said:
"Modern procurement contracts are increasingly failing to provide adequate supervision of construction works by the designer. In addition, the presence of a Clerk of Works or Resident Engineer on site is a rarity.
“The incident at Oxgangs Primary School has thrown this issue into sharp focus and highlighted the increasing risk of future disasters. Tragic events elsewhere in recent weeks may well share some systemic issues with the case in Edinburgh, reinforcing the stark reality that many serious incidents are often only avoided by timing and luck.
“Consequently, the Institution is planning a high level cross discipline summit to explore ways to reverse this trend and improve future practice."
Commenting on the Conference, Institution Chief Executive, Martin Powell, said:
“The passion and concern amongst the audience was palpable and with it a sober acknowledgement that there is a very fragile interface between the many excellent projects completed each year in the UK and the potential for a catastrophic incident”.
He added: “These are not challenges any one body can resolve on its own and as an Institution we are committed to encouraging an imaginative and collaborative response to promote whatever changes are necessary to reduce risk and increase public confidence.”