Architect Manoj Choudhury, Director, ECPL, Mumbai Shares Insights on Structural Safety

Lack of Structural Safety - A Real Cause of Concern

Structural Safety holds dire importance in construction, primarily because compromises in this area lead to LOSS OF HUMAN LIFE. Data collated by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) indicates that 38363 people lost their lives due to the collapse of various structures in 37514 incidents between 2001 and 2015. We discuss the pertinent issue of Structural Safety in detail in the January 2020 edition of Surfaces Reporter, along with inputs from well-known architects, engineers, builders and senior officials of GCBI India, FSAI, Maharashtra Fire Services, Indian Association of Structural Engineers and others

To gain more insights on the issue, the SR Team interacted with Ar Manoj Choudhury, Director, Edifice Consultants (ECPL), Mumbai and hereby we present the excerpts.

How much attention is actually getting paid to structural safety in India?

The Indian building industry has developed a strong base in engineering norms and safety standards that are established in the tendering process itself and carried forward in an airtight manner, undergoing consistent and periodic audits through the course of construction. This is the norm in large-scale developments across the country – thus ensuring that India meets the international standards of construction management and quality.

What are the challenges faced by architects & structural engineers in making a safe building?

Challenges faced by architects concerning safe building practices are few and far between. Here’s why –a highly competitive tendering process ensures that the right team is assembled for a project, comprising of a competent and complementary group of consultants and Grade-A contractors to execute the project vision.

While cutting corners in the early stages of the project may yield marginal profits, it inevitably creates hazards for the project inhabitants in the long run and must be strongly deterred as bad practice.

However, diligent project management and documentation can help avert poor decision-making as well as faulty execution; projects can be additionally safeguarded through warranty clauses in contracts – these favour the clients and the architects alike, holding stakeholders accountable for maintaining a high standard of safety, with due penalties assigned to defaulters if necessary protocols are not meticulously followed.

Resisting the Indian norm of tactical problem-solving using the path of least resistance within limited means, safety engineers must be assigned for the project lifecycle to conduct regular safety audits; lastly, the most important hallmark of safe building practices is the sourcing of the right materials and labour at optimal costs, to execute the construction best suited to the site conditions.

What are the changes that need to be brought in terms of safety-norms & must-dos?

The notion of safety is not limited only to structural integrity, but also extends to site conditions, supervision, labour protection, and wellness and the environmental impacts of the project.

A more holistic understanding of safety-norms will help recalibrate our approach to safety; architects and consultants must assume the responsibility of safety on-site as a precursor to structural resilience, as a majority of issues can be nipped in the bud through due diligence and strictly monitored construction progress.

Apart from the stringent codification of safety norms and corresponding clauses right from the tendering stage, safety can be ensured by stakeholders by making it a key deliverable of the project, instead of merely an afterthought. We at Edifice Consultants, for instance, follow an exhaustive project documentation process that sets KPIs (Key Plan Initiatives)for safety in addition to design quality and end-user feedback. Through this process, we were able to achieve an important benchmark at our recently completed Ramanujan IT City project in Chennai – the 5.5 million sq.ft of built space at the campus were executed with no incidents on site.

A methodological approach to design and construction ensures the safety of all those who work at our sites and helps us meet our targets for minimizing environmental impact as well.

What more can the government do in this regard?

We must give credit where credit is due – the government has done plenty to ensure structural as well as site safety; recent policy changes such as RERA as well as statutory interventions through the NBC (National Building Code of India), the ESIC (Employees’ State Insurance Corporation) and the NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) hold project stakeholders to ever higher standards of accountability, which benefit all in the long run.

However, there is still a dearth of stringent checks for site conditions and implementation of labour laws; even ubiquitous concerns like dust on site and waterlogging can create hazardous conditions for the workers or even harbour diseases. These concerns, of course, will be addressed if we start to practice the aforementioned change in perspective – where safety moves beyond protracted calculations and ticks off a certification form, and towards a comprehensive framework that protects the interests of everyone impacted by the project.

Any other research, project, and opinion you would like to share.

Apart from the success story of Ramanujan IT City, another milestone that we have reached as a project is the completion of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya Hospital in Varanasi with zero incidents at site. The project presently holds the distinction of being the largest hospital of its kind completed in a record time of ten months; the record of zero accidents on the project’s site bolsters our belief in our ‘people-first’ design values. The project also employs a hybrid construction methodology – using a structural steel and concrete composite – making it the first healthcare project in the country to utilize this approach. The composite structure far outperforms traditional structural frames and increases the building’s resilience as well as longevity by several years.

It has also reinforced our experience that safety cannot be rushed –despite the tight project timeline, we could achieve safety both during as well as after the project’s execution only by following carefully calibrated timelines for each stage of the project. While it can be tempting to speed up projects to cash in on the bottom line a few months early, we must keep in mind that a safe, sound structure is an investment that will continue giving returns perennially – and not just monetarily!

About Edifice Consultants

Edifice Consultants Pvt. Ltd., began 28 years ago as a departure from the then prevalent traditional firms. Over 1200 projects later, and despite being one of India’s largest practices, it ensures that its idealism remains untarnished. The firm is a collective with as many philosophies as designers. It makes a concerted effort to improve every project's immediate surroundings and contribute to the well being of its occupants and environs. It strives to build genuinely sustainable solutions that transcend certifications. It believes in trying to exceed expectations. It aims to delight its clients by ideating, collaborating, engineering and constructing. Today, Edifice has over 160 professionals based out of 8 regional branches around India and over 120 million Sq.Ft. of built-up and ongoing projects to its credit.

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