Profession still has lessons to learn from Grenfell, say civil engineers

Five years on from Grenfell, 92% of civil engineers say profession still has lessons to learn.

More than nine in ten civil engineers believe their profession still has lessons to learn from the Grenfell Tower disaster. The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) surveyed its members to mark five years since the fire, which is commemorated on 14 June.

Only 7% of respondents felt the sector had become less safe since the fire at Grenfell, compared with 36% who felt it was safer and the same proportion saying it was ‘about the same.'

Just one in five rated the infrastructure sector’s response as being ‘excellent’ (1%) or ‘good’ (19%), compared with 45% who felt it was ‘poor’ or ‘very poor.’

Respondents were most critical of its record on 'updating and enforcing regulations and standards' with 38% scoring it ‘poor’ or ‘very poor.’

A similar proportion (31%) had the same view about 'sharing lessons and best practice.’ They were more positive about ‘ensuring competence of civil engineers and ongoing professional development' with 40% scoring performance in this area as either 'excellent' or 'good.’

Asked about how the ICE could support its members to improve standards, most (83%) agreed that it should ‘work with other professional institutions to promote a whole-systems, multi-disciplinary approach for the lifetime safety of infrastructure assets.’

There was also strong support for 'working with other organisations to review, comment on and disseminate lessons from concerns, near misses and catastrophic incidents’ (82%) and for ‘supporting members to report their concerns and work with organisations to encourage confidential reporting’ (70%).

In 2018, ICE commissioned the In Plain Sight report, which examined how the industry could help mitigate the risk of the most serious infrastructure failures. The report expressed the view that there were lessons to be learnt from Grenfell for the whole construction industry and it made several recommendations to place a greater emphasis on public safety.

Among its recommendations was a stronger focus on continuing professional development (CPD) to ensure that civil engineers stay up to date with best practices in safety and risk management.

Other recommendations focus on the need to improve the reporting of risks and incidents, and to record and share these lessons more widely. Since last year, fire safety has been included in the industry-wide reporting system known as CROSS UK (Collaborative Reporting for Safer Structures). This was a key recommendation from Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety in the construction industry.

Ed McCann, president of ICE, said: “We owe it to the 72 people who lost their lives at Grenfell to ensure that lessons are learnt. Our survey shows the majority of civil engineers feel the same. Everyone working in the construction industry has a responsibility to make sure a tragedy like Grenfell never happens again and to maintain public confidence in our profession.

“We are working hard to help our members keep their skills and knowledge up to date throughout their careers, and to improve reporting mechanisms. While there is still much work to do, this progress will help ensure that public safety is always the top priority in our industry.”

The survey also found that two in every five respondents (41%) felt that Grenfell had had an impact on their own practice as a civil engineer. Over 78% felt there had been some impact on their learning from areas outside their immediate discipline. More than 75% also reported that it had affected their awareness and prioritisation of public safety and of professional regulations and standards.

Click here to read ICE’s In Plain Sight report.

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