REPORT FROM VICE-PRESIDENT, JAYNE HALL
On the day before the deadline for my Vice-President’s page in this month’s journal the news has been dominated by another catastrophic tragedy – the sudden failure of the supporting structure of the 51 year old Morandi Bridge in Genoa, Italy. Many people lost their lives when the centre of the bridge collapsed during a torrential storm sending vehicles plummeting 45 metres onto the city below leading to the loss of many lives. The investigation is already focusing on possible design flaws or inadequate maintenance. By the time CABE members read this page much more will be known about the cause of this terrible disaster.
It seems that, lately, construction has rarely been out of the news – from the nightmare of the Grenfell Tower fire to the sudden financial collapse of the UK’s second largest construction giant Carillion, and the accompanying aftershock for all those businesses and projects affected. The raging debate on standards of new-build housing is never far from the headlines.... and it is hard to stay positive with Brexit, climate change, rising sea levels, pollution, hikes in import/export tariffs, global politics, housing shortages, uncertainties on infrastructure projects, price hikes and programme over-runs. Businesses struggle to keep afloat in the face of interest rate rises, skills shortages and a UK construction fatality rate three times higher than the rate across all industries....the list goes on. I haven’t got time or the space to go into all the details here, but it is fair to say the challenges facing all of us will keep us on our toes in the coming years.
We can’t say we haven’t been warned. Mark Farmer’s Modernise or Die warning in 2016 could not have been more prophetic. His call for urgent changes to the construction sector’s structure and working practises have been echoed this year in Dame Judith Hackitt’s report on her independent review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.
With a focus on competencies, compliance and enforcement; design, technology and manufacturing processes; procurement and continuing whole-life maintenance, management and involvement of the end users, it’s almost too much to take in!
Every day it seems we’re faced with more and more new acronyms. For example, MMC – modern methods of construction. Offsite manufacture gives us an opportunity to think differently about how things can be achieved. Streamlining and standardising processes enables better quality assurance, along the lines of the manufacturing industry, but need not exclude the smaller players nor repress innovation. Technology is advancing faster than most of us can keep up... BIM, virtual reality, mobile devices, apps etc. all lead us to more agile, efficient ways of working.
I touched on the demographic challenge and skills shortages in my last piece in the July Building Engineer. My personal views on equality sparked some debate amongst members and there is a long way to go, culturally, before true equality for all is achieved.
But it’s not all bad news... I was heartened to read of a young female engineering graduate from the Islamic University of Gaza who has gained international recognition for inventing a concrete building block made from recycled rubble and ash, removing the reliance on imported aggregate and cement for reconstruction (available online at http://www.globalconstructionreview.com/innovation/female-engineer-gaza-invents-concrete-block-made-r/).
And HSE statistics for 2017, though far from ideal, do at least show the rate of fatal injury is a quarter of what it was in 2000/2001 and a fifth of that in 1990/1991 (available online at http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/industry/construction/construction.pdf).
It is a pity that it takes such tragic events to focus hearts and minds – it was the Great Fire of London back in 1666 that set us on the path to better standards and regulation.
In the 21st century we must continue to learn from past mistakes whilst looking forward and embracing change if we are to flourish. We must be open-minded. We must be more trustful of our peers, more willing to collaborate and share best practice. The construction game is not a competition. All disciplines and professions have a role to play in bringing together a project, however large or small. We all need to embrace the Golden Thread.
I remain optimistic. CABE recently sought the views of members on the proposals in the Hackitt Review and the results have been published and submitted to the Building Regulations Advisory Committee. I believe the survey shows the will is there to work towards the greater good.
As always CABE will promote excellence by developing professionals, sharing knowledge and raising standards as we have done since 1925!
Jayne Hall BSc(Hons) C.Build E VPCABE FCABE