WELCOME

As the initiator of this web site, I welcome all visitors, and trust that you will find it provides a stimulating and thought provoking experience. If you have time to spend only a few minutes, I hope you will see enough to encourage you to return - and perhaps become involved in some of the tasks which need to be done, if construction disasters really are to be prevented. If you are really interested I hope you will read my "extended welcome". (Updates will also be inserted from time to time and will include personal comment on relevant media reports.)

Where I am coming from

Unless otherwise acknowledged, the views expressed here are my personal views, and I take full responsibility for them. However, these ideas were not developed in an ivory tower, but in the real world of concreting and bridge construction practice and planning and management of structural engineering contracts. They have also taken many years to develop.

The animated presentation above commences with photos taken from Press reports of the collapse during construction of spans of Can Tho Bridge in Vietnam. This was the disaster that inspired me to do all that I could to develop and promote construction policies and procedures which would, if enforced, minimise the risk of such an event occurring again. The various inter-related proposals and recommendations contained in this website are directed at all sectors of the concrete construction industry and at all levels of project management

Construction disasters aren't confined to "developing" countries. They can happen anywhere and any time - and from time to time they do. In particular, this web site will make several references to the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne, in 1970, and to Second Narrows Bridge in Vancouver, in 1958. As one of my mentors (Steen Rostam) said half a generation ago "This is an international problem; therefore we need an international solution".

It is my intention that this website will be recognised by experienced senior engineers for its technical credibility and relevance. At the same time I fervently hope that it will provide support and encouragement to junior and less experienced engineers; and help them avoid mistakes which could destroy their lives or their careers. Hopefully, this website will be able to facilitate communication across generational, national and cultural divides.

It is also my intention that this website will present a genuine "human face". The referenced papers and other publications by observers and reporters  - as well as the stories of the survivors and the loved ones of the victims - should remind us all that these disasters are seldom due to technical factors alone. There are usually "human" failures at many levels, and it is as important to address these "human" causes as it is to address the technical ones.  

To make this "human face" more personal, I would like to show you the erection truss used by the contractor on The Rip Bridge, where I was the young and contractually inexperienced Resident Engineer. (Other stories (and lessons learnt) from this period are told in more detail in Motivations.) I did not carry out my own verification checks on this temporary structure because I trusted the information I was given by the contractor's Project Engineer. This was a safe option in the special circumstances of  this contract.  However, if I had been dealing with a less experienced and competent contractor, such an act of trust could have led to a charge of criminal negligence (if the truss failed)  - and I may not have been in a position to launch this website. (Other young - and not so young - site engineers have not been so fortunate with the people in whom they have had to put their trust.)

Where I am hoping we can go - together

The overall purpose of the website is presented in the form of “Seven Integrated Objectives”.

This website will be publicised initially among engineers most of whom have a primary interest in concrete and concrete structures. However, these ideas are submitted to the wider construction industry in the hope that they will be seriously considered and debated – providing such debate leads to more and better ideas – and the implementation of these ideas. A strategy won’t be any use until it stops men getting killed.

I am especially hopeful that this website will lead to more bridges of communication and understanding being built between design engineers and construction engineers - and built in such a way that the owner's engineers are fully informed. Most importantly, those owner's representatives who make the commercial decisions which determine procurement and tendering policies need to be included in the information loops.

This website is not directed only to engineers. I believe very deeply that the construction of safe and durable (and cost effective) structures depends on a relationship of mutual trust and respect being established between the engineers who design and plan and manage a project and the workmen who carry out the construction processes.

By "engineers" I include the engineers and technical specialists employed by the owner, design consultants and project verifiers as well as by the contractor or his subcontractors. By "workmen" I include foremen, supervisors and inspectors as well as the men (and sometimes women) who physically convert drawings and specifications into structural reality.

 

By building bridges of mutual trust and respect, the parties to a contract (and others who are not parties to the contract - such as subcontractors and verifiers and unions and individual workers) should be empowered to debate and negotiate openly and honestly about contractual claims and other technical/contractual matters (including safety) without fear or intimidation. Ideally, the communication across these bridges will create a climate of technical and financial trust - and there will develop a mutual desire for all parties to receive fair and justifiable benefits and remuneration for their contributions to the project.

These ways are not the traditional ways in which owners deal with contractors and vice versa. This is also not the established way for unions to deal with contractors and vice versa. For those who have only worked in adversarial environments, such relationships may seem too good to be true - even undesirable. For those who think that way, may I encourage you to read the West Gate Report - and see how that tragedy occurred because the various parties were not able - and perhaps not willing - to build such bridging relationships.

I believe there is a better way - a way which will build relationships across the traditional barriers of the past, and create an environment where everybody can "think safety" and "think quality" and where mistrust and suspicion can be replaced by harmony and good will.

Stuart Curtis (Website Initiator)

June, 2009