A View on the Australian Building Industry 2012 – Part 4

A View on the Australian Building Industry 2012 – Part 4

A View on the Australian Building Industry 2012 – Part 4

After 37 years in the building industry, I suggest building standards have now fallen to a standard below that existing prior to my graduation. In the interest of reducing bureaucracy and facilitating development, we have eliminated well established safeguards on the quality of the end product as well as the quality of the workplace. I believe it is time for an urgent review. Part four is the fourth of four reports presenting my view of different aspects of the building industry.

When I started my own consultancy business in 1984, clients still generally used the traditional consultancy agreement with a full tender process involving full architectural and engineering design and a bill of quantities, prepared by a quantity surveyor. That system was criticised over a long period of time because the client considered that too often he was paying for variations generated due to error and dispute between the builder and the various consultants. In consequence, the market generally moved towards ‘Design and Construct’ contracts. I suggest that we have substantially eliminated that problem. However after 20 years since its introduction, I suggest urgent readjustments are now required. The industry may have solved one problem but in my view have created other far more serious ones in the process. I consider some of those problems (Part 4) to be as follows:

The Use of Prestressed Concrete in Australia

The preference to using concrete in the Australian residential and commercial building industry extends to include the use of prestressed concrete. Notably, prestressed concrete does not enjoy this popularity in Europe. I suggest that this is due to more stringent control in the certification process of approval. In Australia, I have concerns, not so much with the product but the system of use. As previously discussed in Part 1 of my reports, a change in the certification process is required. Any change must stop the misuse of prestressed concrete. The concrete slabs are fit for the purpose of strength and deflection but the level of cracking in the slab is unacceptable 99% of the time. The client’s consulting engineer for the project generally has the design responsibility taken away from him by the main contractor and given to the designer for the prestressing subcontractor. Yet the subcontractor relies on the client’s engineering certificate because he is only a sub consultant. The limited liability offered by the client’s consulting engineer allows short cuts in design and site practice to be taken, which often results in unacceptable cracking due to the locked in stresses created by ‘restraint’. This was seen recently in a building in Canberra where the podium slab over the carpark was leaking caused by cracking induced by locked in prestresses. ‘Pour strips’ are forgotten in the interests of contract program and in the long run, the directors of the main contractor and then the owners have to deal with the consequences. In truth the slabs are not fit for purpose.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you wish to discuss these matters.

Yours sincerely

Charles Rickard


RH Consulting Engineers

Specialist Structural, Civil, Façade and Diagnostic Engineer

Suite 5, 121 Military Road, Neutral Bay NSW 2089

Ph:+61 2 9904 5610

Fax:+61 2 9904 5642

Mobile:+61 418 238 247

Email: charles@charlesrickard.com.au

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