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Construction Failures – Have We Learned the Lessons of History?

by Donald Charrett

Dr Donald Charrett (2012) 143 ACLN 40

Failures of buildings or engineered facilities which involve collapse of structures or result in loss of life are usually scrutinised in a public inquiry such as a Royal Commission or Committee of Inquiry. This paper reviews some past public inquiries into construction failures, and highlights the lessons that, in the author’s opinion, still have contemporaneous value in respect of contractual issues that were found to have relevance to the failure. The theme of the paper is that the lessons to be learned from construction failures are not confined to the technical quality of the engineering and construction, but include the contractual, organisational and managerial aspects of project execution. Unlike most construction disputes which, at their heart, are about money and who pays how much to whom, most of the public inquiries considered here had the further dimension that the construction failure resulted in significant (and sometimes substantial) loss of life. This should be a salutary reminder to construction law practitioners that the engineer’s “art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man” in every project carries with it attendant execution risks which, if they materialise, can involve significant injury and loss of life.

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