Our Account Manager Laura Cunliffe-Hall attended the first of the Institution of Civil Engineers’ (ICE) new online strategy sessions discussing the need to earn the public’s trust in the safety of our infrastructure.

It is a cultural and legal responsibility of those within the infrastructure and development sectors to ensure that the infrastructure we provide is safe.

In the wake of recent high-profile structural failures, such as the Grenfell Tower fire and collapse of the Polcevera viaduct in Italy, this session asked how civil engineers and infrastructure professionals can best reassure the public that buildings and structures remain safe throughout their lifecycle.

Dame Judith Hackitt, former Chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety and current Chair of manufacturing trade body Make UK (formerly Engineering Employers’ Federation), kicked off discussion.

The key point made was that unless the culture in an organisation is right, communication will fail. Previous issues within the infrastructure and development sectors were identified such as the unequal balance of long-term risk or a ‘fix it now’ approach – which can have dangerous long-term consequences resulting in structural failures.

Dame Judith also discussed the building safety regulator role, discussed in our previous blog, explaining the functionality of the system that sits under the HSE and operates in the same way. It was explained that the role of regulation depends on the behaviour of the industry – if the infrastructure industry behaves in the right way, further behavioural legislation will not be required. However, these regulations were a response to the failure of the system that resulted in the tragedy at Grenfell.

Finally, the point was raised that learning lessons from structural failures should not be held up by legal processes – investigation is essential and lessons need to be learnt faster. As communications and engagement professionals within the infrastructure sector, it is our responsibility to contribute to a collaborative, rather than a divisive, culture focused around knowledge-gathering and self-improvement. It is important to create a climate where those within the industry are rewarded, rather than penalised, for reporting issues and concerns.

Dr Hazel McDonald, Chief Engineer at Transport Scotland then discussed the importance of inspections, including the Bridge Inspector Certification Scheme (BICS) to ensure competence and described the challenges facing Scottish networks due to the range of structures.

Discussion concluded with the findings of Dr Julie Bregulla, Group Director of Fire and Building Technology at BRE (Building Research Establishment). Across the construction sector, it was highlighted that we need to make the interconnectedness of infrastructure clear and present a ‘one engineering’ identity to the public to increase stakeholder engagement with major infrastructure projects.

The overriding importance of communication as an essential aspect of any infrastructure project was a recurring theme of discussion – the infrastructure is for the public and this must be recognised by those working hard within the sector to progress projects.

We will discuss the need to maintain strong public engagement with projects through digital engagement in the current climate in our upcoming webinar, ‘Engagement in the virtual world’, based on our digital engagement guide. You can sign up here.

The recording from today’s ICE Strategy Session will be available on the ICE website here.