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The Regs: Eurocodes

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Geoff Wilkinson looks at the forthcoming introduction of Structural Eurocodes

The introduction of the Structural Eurocodes has possibly been the longest running story in my building control career, and is finally upon us. For those who haven’t been following the story, it dates back to 1975, when the European Commission decided it would eliminate technical obstacles to trade and establish a set of harmonised technical rules.

In 1989, CEN (the European Committee for Standardization) set about the preparation and publication of the Eurocodes as European standards. CEN has prepared a huge suite of structural Eurocodes comprising 58 parts covering basis of design, loading, the major construction materials, geotechnics and design in earthquake areas.

Under the agreement with CEN, the national standard bodies will withdraw conflicting national standards in March 2010. Practically, this means that from 1 April 2010, the national codes of practice for the design of buildings in the UK will be the Eurocodes.

It should be noted that the Eurocode design standards are currently voluntary, but will replace the British Standards in the next revision to Building Regulations Approved Document A (Structure). This means that references to current British Standards will not be updated until 2013. Communities and Local Government has placed itself in an awkward position by not implementing changes to Part A in April, and this has created a lot of confusion in the industry. We find ourselves in a position where engineers will be expected to design using Eurocodes, but Approved Document A will allow British Standards to be used until 2013. This means engineers might attempt to mix and match from the two, with disastrous consequences.

The approach of SME (small to medium-sized enterprises) practices varies considerably. For example, Simon Pole of structural engineer Pole Associates told me: ‘They will be a problem to bring in, particularly for SMEs and for local authorities’ checking engineers. My current understanding is that only the very largest firms are preparing for their use.’

Meanwhile, David Sharpe, associate at engineering consultancy Pell Frischmann, said: ‘The costs and decrease in efficiency are significant for SMEs. All of our structural software needs to be relevant to the Eurocodes. All of our technical staff need to combine formal CPD with on-the-job training, to learn how to apply the new codes to current designs.’

However, Glen Warriner of engineering and building control consultancy MLM claimed that they were prepared. ‘For over a year we have embarked on a planned implementation of the main Eurocodes,’ he said. ‘We had group training for all our structural engineers last year, and we are generally trying to adopt the Eurocodes for all new commissions, where possible.’

As the updating of Building Regulations to reflect the directive will not take place until 2013, many engineers see this as the point when they must start using Eurocodes. In fact, it is the contracts that will decide when we must change, particularly public contracts, which will undoubtedly require the change to take place immediately.

Engineers can view this change as a hindrance or an opportunity. Those who don’t adopt the Eurocodes in April could find their work opportunities restricted. Architects will need to decide with their engineers which set of codes should be used on a project and check with their building control service provider that they can handle whichever set is chosen.

It seems that, yet again, the industry is in a state of confusion about regulatory change.

  • Geoff Wilkinson is a building regulations expert and former vice-chair of the Association of Consulting Approved Inspectors (ACAI)
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