After another New South Wales apartment complex had to be evacuated due to cracking, industry bodies are renewing calls for better regulation and registration of those involved in building compliance and certification.
Residents of an apartment tower in the inner-south Sydney suburb of Mascot were evacuated Friday night over fears that widening cracks posed a safety threat to residents.
“Ongoing and persistent” cracking in the primary support structure and façade masonry prompted temporary structural supports to be erected Thursday night as a precaution. However, by Friday night, engineers raised concerns about cracking in the transfer slab beams supporting the primary building corner, which led to a complete evacuation of the Mascot Towers complex.
Engineers are still working to determine the exact cause of the cracking. A Fire and Rescue NSW spokesperson said in a statement on Saturday that there had been “identifiable movements in the basement area” of the building, potentially related to works happening nearby.
Story in miniature
Although the exact cause of the Mascot Towers damage is still under investigation, this is just the latest in a string of incidents that expose the wider regulation issues plaguing the building industry.
Six months ago, residents of Sydney’s Opal Tower apartment complex were evacuated due to cracking and reports of movement. A final investigation found the hob beam and panel assembly that caused the cracks did not meet design requirements outlined in the National Construction Code or the Australian Standard for Concrete Structures.
Shortly after Opal Tower, the NSW Government said it would tighten regulation of building certifiers. NSW Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson said the government is committed to restoring confidence in the building and construction industry. This includes appointing a Building Commissioner and introducing a “suite of reforms” aimed at bringing transparency, accountability and quality control to the construction and building sectors. However, little progress has been made on delivering these changes.
This is despite clear recommendations available in two industry-endorsed reports: the Shergold-Weir Building Confidence report and the final Opal Tower investigation report.
The first recommendation in both reports is for the government to establish registration of building practitioners and engineers in partnership with an appropriate professional body.
Engineers Australia National Manager for Public Affairs Jonathan Russell said his organisation is ready to work with the NSW Government to implement these recommendations to restore public trust in the building industry.
“It doesn’t matter what the true cause of the Mascot Towers cracks is, because it’s a systemic problem. It’s a problem with the system that allows for these problems with combustible cladding, or shifting, or cracking to occur,” Russell said.
“Opal Tower should have been the wakeup call. This incident with Mascot Towers is a reminder that we need to get on with implementing the recommendations in the Shergold-Weir report and the Opal Tower findings.”
Engineers Australia has previously reached out to Anderson to offer support and assistance with implementing a registration scheme. Russell said the organisation will follow up in light of what has happened with Mascot Towers.
Chris Knierim, President of the Building Designers Association of Australia, said reform is on the horizon because “it actually needs to happen”.
“We can’t sit back and remain going in the same direction. We want to ensure everybody is safe and these buildings themselves are also safe,” he said.
Knierim also drew on the Shergold-Weir report’s recommendations as a playbook for the building industry to follow.
“In that report there were 24 recommendations for the construction industry, and recommendation number one was … registration of all building practitioners — engineers, architects, building designers and so on,” he said.
“This is a key point that should be put through because it’s making these people accountable. Consumers need to be confident in the sector, and to do this we need to make sure we have people accountable for their actions.”
Russell said ultimately every recommendation in the Shergold-Weir and Opal Tower reports should be implemented, but registration is the clear starting point.
“We are not saying this particular incident is an engineer’s fault, we are not saying registration will fix everything, but this is clearly a systemic problem that Engineers Australia is looking to help solve,” he said.
“[Engineers Australia] fully expects to work closely with the government to implement a NSW registration scheme.”
How many registrations do you want to have? Architects are already registered with their professional association, same with engineers.
NSW Fair Trading have been dropping the ball for years letting known bad builder run amok.
This is just the tip of the ice berg….. And I hear Victoria is worse.
See this: https://www.ombo.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/55089/Is-your-builder-fit-and-proper-the-weaknesses-of-the-home-building-licensing-scheme-in-NSW.pdf
And this: https://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/207156/sub016-consumer-law-attachment1.pdf
And this: https://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/207155/sub016-consumer-law.pdf
shouldn’t EI Aust be trying to make better engineer before selling our members out to the lawyers
its or well and good to make engineer accountable
would it not be better to have engineers do a better job
this is typical BS from IE aust
stating that we don’t know the “true cause” in what world is it reasonable to draw this conclusion
that registration of engineers will fix it
if this is the quality of the engineers that are in IE Aust then we have no future
time and time when you ask for help the silence is over whelming
again you sell us out how can one recommend engineering to any student
as usually nothing will come from my comments
what would us country engineers known
One key point I believe is overlooked when determining the cause of these failures is the time-pressure engineers are subject to when designing structures these days – particularly when they have been novated to the builder. This time pressure can come from the frequent last-minute and significant changes to the design driven by the builder or client, or simply that engineers are having to put in lower and lower fees to win work, meaning they have less time to design to the standard that we all expect. Mistakes are inevitable in that sort of environment, and although I agree with the recommendations of the Shergold-Weir report, I believe a key component that needs to be looked into is this time-pressure factor. As designers we want to provide economical and safe structures, but if we don’t have adequate resources (time, money etc) to do our job properly, failures like this will only become more frequent.
I am a recently retired civil/structural engineer. I retired earlier than I might have done otherwise because I was sick to death of younger engineering graduates being awesome at driving computers but “without a clue” about what the computers were trying to tell them. Garbage in, garbage out is a problem & the universities that train our graduates are culpable, in my opinion.
The big item that needs to be addressed is registration of builders. You need a licenced builder to build a $100000 extension to a house but no licence to build a 20 storey building. You should not only require a licence to build larger buildings but a greater degree of qualification .Engineers are not the problem.
Go back to the top – developers and builders are responsible to buyers for the buildings they build so that when things go wrong they remain liable to the owner. They are the ones that force the ridiculous programming, the selection of design teams, the corner cutting and cost saving that hides as innovation.
If there is a wild fire running around at random under your project and the goal posts never move back then;- stop introducing spec. changes half way through design work and let design engineers do their work in the right order once and right first time without senseless reporting to administrators. Take full responsibility for your designs. Stop rushing jobs and passing on the buck to somebody else. Let engineering managers conduct and document design reviews to check. Let common sense prevail.
Three responses, that IEAust should be proposing as a minimum:
1. Senior structural engineers, with decades of experience, should be utilised in-house to check designs and drawings – well before IFC and for critical on-site changes – not ‘put out to pasture’ when they turn 60-65.
2. Unless the quality of engineering design work (and language skills) improves significantly ‘overnight’ (!?!), the independent checking of designs should become mandatory.
Note: Without the above steps, mandatory Registration is all-but a waste of time.
3. The apparent over-reaction on-site to these incidents, only serves to inflame the public debate:
– first action: when concerning crack/movements are identified, remove occupants
– second action: install propping to stabilise the building temporarily
– third action: give occupants 24 hours to remove pets and key key possessions
In a so-called ‘first world country’, we should not witness residents being thrown out onto the street with just the clothes they are wearing: a Government ‘Building Commission’ should cover cost of relocation and temporary accommodation of occupants, until insurance repays.
IEAust – and Consult Australia – must take the lead on this issue publicly, otherwise – as well as the problems continuing and the community suffering – the reputation of professional engineers will (continue to) be destroyed.
(Semi-retired) ex-Principal Structural Engineer
Completely agree with country engineer and A. Working in qld as an RPEQ there is a constant reminder from authorities about how we are responsible and no or limited checking is performed. This pressure causes quite a lot of conservatism in designs, so forgot innovative, creative or sustainable solutions we just want to make sure it doesn’t come back to us. How about instead of telling the public that registration of professions will solve most of the issues focus on what the real problem are in the industry mentioned by A. It may come as a surprise to some that registering professions does not make them smarter or immune to making mistakes! Put the best engineer under heavy time and cost pressure – i.e. business as usual in our industry and mistakes are guaranteed. Find out the cause of the building failure before waving the registration flag. Peer reviews by professions in authorities seems like a great start then authorities acting only as administration officers. At the end of the day having the increased ability to haul an individual engineer to court to take away any hard earned asset and/or put them in jail because of their mistake doesn’t help the industry.
Questions to ask – 1. Who issued the building permit?
2. Who was supervising the project ?
3. Was the structural design certified and officially checked and certified ?
4. Were the actual on-site plans checked as complying with the structural design ?
5. Did the standard of building materials used meet the specifications ?
There are a lot of questions to be asked and answers sought before we focus in on just the certification of engineers !
Typical Engineers Australia ambulance chasing.
Registration of engineers will do nothing to improve building quality, but that’s not the aim is it. All EA wants to achieve is greater membership revenue.
I say this as a member and chartered mechanical engineer (company pays).
I’m very old, so it’s all a bit hazy, but I seem to remember a time when all consulting engineers charged a standard percentage fee. This meant they had time to do their design work properly without undue haste. As the building went up they made constant inspections to ensure all was progressing according to drawings and specifications. On big jobs they employed full time inspectors, such as specially-trained tradesmen, to keep a constant eye on things. This system had been evolved in response to the disastrous failures of the late 19th century due to gung-ho commercialism. Then in the 1980s economic rationalists and like-minded politicians, who it seems cannot begin to understand the concept of quality, decided that the professions were glorified trade unions exploiting their customers. Fixed fees became, I believe, illegal. Price competition was imposed. Despite this, responsible consultants have managed to maintain a respectable level of quality, but it appears that a significant proportion of design and supervision is “cheap and nasty”, like much that is offered by our supermarkets.
In my opinion the best answer would be to return to the professional standards and practices that existed in the first two-thirds of the 20th Century.
Structural design has become almost robotic with the many user-friendly design softwares available in the market. Design errors are therefore highly unlikely. In my opinion research will show this is mainly an execution problem. Unprofessional, below standard, and unqualified workmanship, compromised quality of materials used in the construction, ignorance of critical factors such as proper accountability, surveillance, and abiding by the specifications are more likely the cause of many of such issues. It takes just one, or a fraction, of these factors to cause irreversible damage to structures. Consumers who spend their lives working and saving to purchase an apartment that fails during its lifetime must be devastated. Most of these developments, like all the housing market in Australia, are way over-priced anyway. What a loss! An Inflated price for a “failing” investment.
So many true words from so many correspondents. Registration is just a sop to the politics of the problem but is not a solution to the growing problem of incompetence and inexperience at all stages in the design and construction processes. The introduction of Quality Assurance in the 1990s has been a major factor in the decline of adequate and proper checking at all stages in the process. Proper checking of the design input. Proper review of the design output by experience personnel. Proper checking of all stages of the construction and the materials which go into the structure. Yes, these checks will increase costs but they were all done on projects like the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Snowy Scheme which have stood the test of time without any problem
Comments about the use of computer design programmes and the failure of young engineers to actually understand how structures work are so true. Until we as a profession get back to the basics there will continue to be an increasing number of structural failures.
Alan has got it completely right. Governments of Australia and people of Australia, you got what you deserved. Australian structural engineers 40 years ago were the envy of the world. But we needed to cut down the cost of engineering design and we engineers have delivered that. Well done Australia, you have really screwed up.
The point about registration, is not about MIEAust, it is about design engineers getting recognized in government legislation. Only then will the negotiation process begin to repair structural design engineering back to where it need to be. Also, engineers need to speak with one voice, not be divided and conquered. I have been an design engineer for over 38 years,.. 38 years ago we were respected by the industry and we were paid well. Now, we are openly ridiculed by people who left school at 15 years of age and stopped listening at school at 12 years of age. We need to return to being the proud and self aware profession we once were and that starts with recognition in legislation. From their we need speak with one voice and re-build this profession. Otherwise, don’t bother. The structural engineering will soon all be coming in from China, India and the Philippines.