To put behind the nation last year’s gory tales of structural defects and building collapse, the Federal Government has been advised to compel engineers in the country to practise only in their areas of core competence.

In Nigeria, many people erroneously believe that once they have an engineering qualification and are registered to practise by the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, (COREN), they can dabble into the design and construction supervision of buildings.

This is a costly mistake that has led to the rising statistics of needless deaths and financial loss from building failures and eventual collapse, said the President of the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers (NIStructE), Engr. OreOluwa Fadayomi.

He said unless this mindset was reversed, “structural failures and collapses will continue to remain our problems.” According to him, an audit of all engineering positions in the Federal, States and Local governments should be carried out to put round pegs in round holes. “Engineers in these positions should be firm and resist undue pressure to do anything unethical.”

Fadayomi said the client’s team of professionals on a building project would include: the Surveyor, the Planner, Architect, Quantity Surveyor, Civil and Structural Engineer, Geotechnical Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Mechanical Engineer, Builder and Estate Surveyor.

He said, “Each one of these is expected to be sound and to be an expert in his right. However, the expert that is particularly responsible for design and construction supervision in order to prevent a collapse is the Structural Engineer, because any error or omission in design by any of the other professionals in the design team would not necessarily cause the building to collapse.”

The structural engineer, he said is the most critical factor in the prevention of a building collapse, saying his actions or inactions could prevent a disaster that was waiting to happen.

“The Structural Engineer would as a cause of good engineering practice and professional competence ensure that: the sub-soil investigation of the building site was carried out by a Geotechnical engineer in other to guide his foundation design; the building was diligently designed to the recommended codes and that safety, durability, sustainability and economy were top considerations in the design; he monitored the construction and ensured that the materials used were of good quality and to specifications and that the necessary quality control test and other construction records were carried out on the project.”

He said, “Building design is a specialised engineering responsibility that is mainly professionally handled by engineers whose area of expertise and specialisation is Structural Engineering.”

Fadayomi noted that “the government is the largest employer of engineers in the country but very few of them are structural engineers.
“There is a massive engineering work going on in the country with about 1000 qualified structural engineers overseeing them. It is therefore not unusual to find non-structural engineers performing the role of a structural engineer.

Clients’ error…

Often times, the client, in haste to start realising returns on his investment, puts undue pressure on the structural engineer and the building contractor, he said. “The construction would be so rushed to the extent that the structural elements would not have fully matured before being heavily loaded or put to use. Some Estate Developers and Banking Institutions are guilty of this behaviour. The building may collapse under this condition.”

Standards and enforcement…

The various states of the federation have different Ministries and Departments or Agencies responsible for setting standards for the design and approval of buildings for construction, as well as setting up agencies to control the construction of buildings, he said.

The judiciary and the police, he said are the arms of government to enforce the laws and punish culprits in order to serve as deterrent. “Of the many collapses that have occurred, not many people are known to have been prosecuted to date. We are aware though that the Synagogue case is presently in court.”

It was the responsibility of the government, he said, to provide an enabling environment for the adequate training of engineers and allied profession.

“These include investing in the universities through research and development (R & D); equipping the Technical Colleges and the Trade Centers and the provision of jobs for the young engineers, technicians and artisans to train and gather the needed experience.

“It is therefore imperative that: The existing laws on the practice of engineering should be enforced and the prevention of collapse of buildings strengthened by legislation that allows the practice of structural engineering only by structural engineers.

“The cases of collapse of buildings already investigated should be quickly prosecuted and culprits adequately punished to serve as deterrent to others.

“More Trade Centers and Colleges of Technologies should be built as a matter of urgency to train the middle level manpower that is essential in the construction industry. Graduates of these institutions should be well remunerated to prevent migration and extinction as was the case in the past.

“Policy makers and the legislators in their quest for rapid development should not lose focus of the need to train Nigerians for the sake of the future of the country. Indeed, this will make the development sustainable.

Necessary laws should be enacted to ensure that Nigerians take the lead in all engineering projects of the country and that training clauses are fully embedded in all the contracts.”

Role of the public

The people with the highest casualties in case of a collapse are the users, he said. “The artisans and unskilled workers in the industry are also casualties if the collapse occurs during construction. They therefore should be more concerned and be the whistle blowers.

“Most members of the public belong to one religious body or the other. If everyone is observant and practices the teachings in their places of worship, fraud and deceit would be abhorred and the tendency to cheat would abate.

“It is also in this group that you find unqualified people reveling in appellations of Engr. (professional engineer’s title) this and that. The place of worship therefore needs to verify the claims of such people before entrusting them with their projects.”

Members of the public, he said should be made to be aware of the danger in patronising quacks for their building works; the need to consult the professionals when modifying structures, either for other uses or even the same use should be highlighted; and that they must be aware of the signs that are usually seen when buildings are in distress and are about to collapse.

He also advised that buildings should be maintained like other durable assets and that users of buildings should cooperate with engineers on inspection duty in the general interest of the public, and not to put undue pressure on their building team.

Fadayomi, who said, “No member of our Institution has been involved or indicted in any of the recorded mishaps,” explained that the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers admits engineers as a corporate member of the Institution after rigorous test of competence in solving structural engineering problems.

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