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Thu September 16 2021

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Engineers call for new ways of raising alerts over structural safety

16 Oct 18 More needs to be done to help engineers raise concerns about safety in order to avert future failures, says a new report from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

The risk of structural failures could be reduced by the creation of a new organisation where engineers could raise and share concerns about safety, says the report. The ICE should play a bigger role in empowering engineers to come forward with thir concerns as well as information about near misses and catastrophic incidents about infrastructure, according to the report, In Plain Sight. This includes doing more to highlight and inform its members about whistleblowing options.

The report was commissioned last year following the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. Tim Broyd, then-ICE president, asked Professor Peter Hansford to chair a panel tasked with considering the state of current infrastructure and advise on whether any significant risks are ‘hiding in plain sight’.

The report recognises the need to ensure confidential reporting of issues, near-misses and catastrophic incidents. It calls on the ICE and other professional bodies to scope, sponsor and find funding for a sector-wide organisation, building on the work of Structural-Safety. The report recommends the body’s remit should allow for concerns to be raised about design, construction and long-life use, and should also permit for the sharing of information to allow the wider industry to learn from such concerns. 

It recommends the Institution do more to highlight existing information and avenues open to engineers who want to raise concerns about infrastructure, including sharing information about relevant prescribed bodies, and advising on appropriate wording when raising concerns. 

Hansford said: “As professional engineers, we already know many of the factors that can contribute to the risk of infrastructure failure and we must remain diligent and critical to ensure they don’t stay hidden.  This report is about empowering us to have a voice throughout the whole life of the infrastructure we design, construct and operate.  

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“I look forward to seeing the whole construction sector take forward these recommendations, working with industry and members to strengthen lines of defence, improve accountability across the sector and mitigate the risk of infrastructure failure to enhance public safety.”

ICE vice president Kyle Clough said: “It is essential that professional engineers feel able to speak up about any concerns they might have, and are provided a clear, confidential way of doing so. Further, it is only by sharing the knowledge about these concerns, accidents or near-misses that the industry can learn and take the necessary steps to stop them happening again.”

This final report challenges ICE, as a key industry institution, to lead on efforts to look at the industry's risk of infrastructure failure. 

The report’s recommendations include that ICE should:

  • Work with professional bodies to scope, sponsor and find funding for a sector-wide organisation to review, comment on and disseminate lessons from concerns, near misses and catastrophic incidents, building on the work of Structural-Safety.
  • run an annual event with the Health and Safety Executive on infrastructure near misses, incidents or forensic reports, to promote understanding and identify sector-wide responses.
  • Encourage engineers to highlight unaddressed infrastructure concerns, risks and near misses to their management and provide guidance via the ICE website on suitable confidential reporting channels should these become necessary.
  • establish an electronic system that captures ICE members’ Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities, increasing tenfold the CPD returns audited annually; and work with the Engineering Council to explore introducing periodic mid-career peer reviews.
  • identify and communicate mandatory risk-related topics, themes and reading lists for members to include in their annual CPD learning.
  • strengthen awareness of ICE’s Code of Professional Conduct through guidance, education, disciplinary processes, sanctions and publicity.
  • The report will be presented at the ICE Council meeting in December, where a decision to endorse the recommendations will be made.  

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