Shortcuts over safety Reply

Public infrastructure needs regular inspection and ongoing repair and maintenance. Picture: French Disko

by Jason Liauw

“Ageing infrastructure is a huge issue around the world,” says chartered engineer Professor Keith Crews, an internationally recognised expert in structural systems and Associate Dean in the Centre for Built Infrastructure Research (CBIR) at UTS.

Professor Crews’ comment follows the car park collapse at a major shopping mall at Eastgardens that was built in 1987, and questions the reliability of ageing buildings considering “engineers tend to assume concrete is a durable material that lasts forever”.

The false assumption that concrete lasts forever stems from a lack of knowledge, according to Professor Crews. “Education has only recently started to train engineers to make them aware things wear out over a period of time,” he says.

“It is probable, in my view, that the type of inspection necessary to identify the problem wasn’t undertaken.” Professor Crews says regular maintenance is necessary to keep such structures in a serviceable condition.

He points out inspection regimes need to be taken seriously, even if no signs of visible damage can be found. He emphasises that all engineers “have an ethical responsibility to provide a duty of care to society as a whole”.

In response to how the carpark collapse could have been prevented, Professor Crews says, “the first rule is to understand the condition of the building. There needs to be a proactive rather than a reactive approach as the whole basis of risk management in infrastructure is prevention.

“Awareness of where a problem is likely to occur is important. You need to initiate procedures to inspect where degradation is occurring and come up with rehabilitation and repair techniques,” he says.

In Professor Crew’s opinion, building management needs “to take into consideration funding for ongoing repair and maintenance” and in the case of the car park, they “should be expanded”.

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