CROSS Safety Report
Consequences of low professional fees
This report is over 2 years old
An engineer believes that despite public concerns about workmanship issues on site, low professional fees mean that engineers are not able to adequately check the work on site.
Key Learning Outcomes
For clients and construction professionals:
Be aware that insurers will rarely pay the true costs of a major loss suffered by a client and avoiding the problem from the outset is of greater value
Consider having independent site supervision to ensure the structure is constructed in accordance with the design
For civil and structural design engineers:
Consider allowing for a minimum number of site visits to inspect safety critical elements and connections
Find out more about the Full Report
The Full Report below has been submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s experience. The text has been edited for clarity and to ensure anonymity and confidentiality by removing any identifiable details. If you would like to know more about our secure reporting process or submit a report yourself, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.
An experienced engineer is concerned that professional fees are currently so low that engineers usually no longer attend site meetings and only make occasional visits to site. They say that most consulting firms would normally have allowed in their appointment documentation for an average of a visit every two weeks. This is far from ideal, in their opinion, but just about enough as there would be more frequent visits in the early stages and fewer as the work progressed.
Are lessons being learned from past failures?
Concerns have been generated by the workmanship issues raised in the following two reports:
The Hackitt report on building safety (Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: final report)
The Edinburgh Schools failures report (Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Construction of Edinburgh Schools)
The reporter believes that as opposed to the lessons being learned, we are at a stage where the level of expert inspection is still being driven down.
Why are claims in the industry rising?
The November/December 2019 issue of The Structural Engineer contained a letter in Verulam concerning professional indemnity (PI) insurance cover, rising premiums and greater restrictions. Clearly claims are rising because of failures of some sort. The letter asks why this is happening and lists possible causes, including over reliance on computers, poor checking and poor supervision. The reporter believes that they all play a part and are often driven by low fees.
The problem engineers have is that clients are quite happy to pay the engineer less if they can. They are mainly interested in ensuring that the engineer has PI insurance. If things go wrong, the insurers will pay and unfortunately the engineer gets dragged in even though they may not have been directly involved.
The reporter feels that this a serious issue and that rather than chatting amongst themselves engineers need to act. This is why they have decided to share these views with CROSS who can then raise the matter with other relevant bodies.
The reporter feels that this a serious issue and that rather than chatting amongst themselves engineers need to act. This is why they have decided to share these views with CROSS who can then raise the matter with other relevant bodies
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This report reminded me of the John Ruskin Common Law of Business:
“It's unwise to pay too much, but it's worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money - that's all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot - it can't be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”
Expert Panel Comments
Expert Panels comment on the reports we receive. They use their experience to help you understand what can be learned from the reports. If you would like to know more, please visit the CROSS-UK Expert Panels page.
The first part of this report has links with report 894 and report 926 , and the benefits of engineers attending site. The second part is more difficult as it is not clear what the relevant bodies can do about fees in an open market. Although it is hoped that more of a focus on competence and clearer duties may make it more difficult to undercut sensible fees.
Should there be minimum inspection requirements on sites?
Insurance will rarely pay the true costs of a major loss suffered by a client and avoiding the problem from the outset is of greater value. It would be better for the industry to stipulate minimum inspection requirements. There are a number of bodies looking at this at the moment following the Hackitt report, and GIRI (Get it Right Initiative) is one such group.
It is the view of many that problems are being exacerbated by design and build procurement methodology. To minimise costs, contractors are receiving designs and then asking engineers not to attend site. There do not appreciate the consequences of changes or shortcomings in the execution of the work which designers can positively address.
Independent supervision of works
CROSS believes there is a strong case for sufficient independent supervision of the works e.g. by calling the design team in to help assure adequate quality during construction. Self-certification has been shown to not work in many CROSS reports.
Clients need to realise that small additional sums expended undertaking such assurance will pay dividends in the long term through improved longevity and less maintenance. Responsible contractors should welcome this approach as it will drive upskilling, quality control and drive down the costs of rework.
Client Requirements under CDM 2015
The industry needs client investment/engagement to make this happen. In CDM Regulations 2015 it says, ‘A client must make suitable arrangements for managing a project, including the allocation of sufficient time and other resources.’ Whilst CROSS is not aware of cases where Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has prosecuted clients for buying too cheaply and thus not getting sufficient resources, the legal mechanism exists.