Importance of Structural Safety - Alok Bhowmick

Alok Bhowmick

Importance of Structural Safety - Alok Bhowmick, President, Indian Association of Structural Engineers, MD, B&S Engineering Consultants, Noida

Off late, we have seen a lot of building collapsing in metros as well as tier I & II cities. This raises the vital question, “How much importance is actually given to structural safety?” What is your view? Are we at more risk with rise in the construction of high-rise buildings? Why?

Safety (or lack of it!) is indeed a major concern for Civil / Structural Engineers in India. Construction now is a hugely complex activity, calling for rapid mobilisation of heavy machineries, skilled manpower and organising the supply of materials on a fast track. Structural design too has become more and more complex requiring continuous professional development and specialist training at all levels.

The instances of deaths caused by building / bridge collapses are rampant in India. We have seen failures of buildings, not only due to nature’s fury of earthquakes, fire, floods or other natural disasters, they fail even otherwise, due to poor workmanship at site of works, due to rampant corruption in the industry and due to faulty design by incompetent professionals. Unfortunately, we, as a society have so far failed to strictly enforce various safety norms in the construction industry. The industry hardly learns from the past failures and continues to repeat the same mistakes again and again.

Are we at more risk with the rise in the construction of high-rise buildings? My answer to this question is “YES”. A profession is as strong as the character of the professionals. Seeing compromises around not only weakens the character of a young engineer, it leads him to wrong path. Academia should stop compromising on quality of education imparted and industry should stop compromising on quality of service provided. But who is academia and industry? First, it is each and every one of us, the senior, the teacher, the boss. We need to “introspect”. Needless to say, this is the most challenging task at our hand.

Our National Building Code is a comprehensive document for satisfying all the safety concerns of a structure. But people are not even aware of many codes. How can this awareness be raised? How can following these rules be made more stringent?

There are several ways of raising awareness about safety amongst the professionals. If I have to cite one way, I will say “Regulate the Profession of Civil Engineering”. This one single step (though a giant one) will address this issue to a great extent. At present our profession is not regulated, unlike the profession of doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants. With lack of regulation, there are problems of incompetence, non-compliance of codes and standards and there is no accountability amongst the professionals. There is no fear of losing the licence to practice.

What changes would you like to see in the segment 5 years down the line?

In next 5 years, I would like to see more and more academiaindustry interaction. Nurturing of young minds in the right way, early in the career is important. I would like to see senior engineers from the industry to pledge a little bit more of their precious time to academic institutions for delivering talks and sharing their knowledge and experience.

Developing strong fundamentals in young students is a must. Academia must take note of this and act accordingly, in terms of modifying conduct or structure of courses, or even curriculum.


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