Webinar Q&A
Your questions, answered!

We recently presented a webinar in which  two leaders in the construction industry Mike Webster – expert witness and forensic engineer – and Bill Hewlett – Technical Director of the British Board of Agrément – discussed what philosophy can bring to engineering, specifically to the domain of product certification.

What we hadn’t anticipated were the number of comments and questions from our audience, and so, as promised, those that were weren’t able to answer on the webinar, we’ve put together some answers from the panel, below.

Q: How can we encourage innovative, sustainable materials to market if the primary pathway to certification is geared towards traditional materials? eg. harmonised standards?

A: I am not sure where the idea comes from that the primary pathway to certification is geared towards traditional materials, and using harmonised standards. Clearly where harmonised standards exist they will be used, and this can simplify the process. Also what learning can be taken from the body of knowledge represented in standards will be used. What can be a difficulty, is where standards have been derived to ensure that products work in combinations; this needs to be thought through if a new product deviates. But the BBA Agrément hallmark is to assess fitness-for-purpose as an expert judgement. This is what BBA was founded for, and continues to do to this day.

Q: Do the standards characterise the technical level of society’s development?

A: I assume this refers to standards such as BSs, ENs and ISO’s. These standards represent a formidable wealth of distilled and agreed knowledge. They are not all knowledge, though, far from it. There are many aspects of design, for instance, that are not (indeed cannot be) ‘standardised’. That standards are being continuously reviewed and updated is also indicative of a wider range of knowledge than is, at any time, ‘in’ the standards. I would seed a word of caution however. If you choose to work outside the standards, you need an equally strong assurance that you are doing good engineering. In some areas, such as concrete structures, the Eurocodes will lag behind contemporary knowledge (as contained in fib bulletins) as a result of the enormous effort required to update and agree the Eurocodes. Each revision of the Eurocodes then incorporates relevant developments from fib bulletins.

Q: What role do you think mortgage lending and the connected warranty provision has, and can have, on quality and compliance?

Warranty providers and mortgage lenders take a risk on good quality. To this end, they want to see robust quality, at least sufficient to control their risk. It is arguable that warranty providers and mortgage lenders assess risk by claims history, which can be unhelpful, as can the 10-year limit on some warranties, as it is quite short term in a building’s life. Generally, though, I see a more proactive approach.

Q: Should we aspire to a tiered system of bronze silver and gold – with bronze being minimum legally acceptable? Then clients can accept designs that exceed minimum standards which they can justify in terms of meeting their own corporate values.

A: That is a question we have tested with the market. The feedback was that specifiers would always play cautious and choose the gold standard. Hence it is not an avenue the BBA is pursuing.

Q: Could Bill say more on how he sees the role of the designer: what are they doing (or using) to make the jump between ideation and reality?

A: I think this was covered in the latter part of the webinar. Very happy to have an off line chat if you need more. Something that could be fruitfully explored, is to study more deeply how BBA certificates are used by designers, and therefrom, how the certificates can be better formed to better support that use case.

Q: Post Grenfell – how do we ensure ‘competence’? We need competent people doing the ‘right things’ and providing evidence of such. How do we get there?

A: That is a long subject. The CPA is putting in place a number of proposals. From a philosophical perspective, we are advocating that the industry needs a better understanding of, and commitment to, the principles of Aristotelian Virtue. Some articles and publications on this theme, linked to analysis of how it would work in practice, what success would look like and how it can be measured, could be useful next steps. Do you buy this?