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June 2006 – No need for Eurocode haste

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There is a lot of myth and misinformation doing the rounds about the introduction of Eurocodes, but one thing that should be clear is that there is no need to rush into anything. Professor David Nethercot makes that point in his report in this issue on where we have got to with Eurocodes, and what organisations should be thinking about doing.

There is never any room for complacency when crucial changes like this are in the offing, but the balance of risk seems to be against doing much more than simply keeping a watching brief until timetables for the introduction of Eurocodes are clearer. Leading design practices have said that they are not even going to think about Eurocodes for some time – some have even banned staff from going on Eurocode related training for the time being.

Discussions between the Department for Communities and Local Government and the steel sector have confirmed that there are no plans to remove BS 5950 Part 1 from the Building Regulations for many years ahead. Government will only take that step if industry makes the switch itself. Even if BSI decided to drop BS 5950 Part 1 the construction industry could maintain it as an ‘industry standard’.

It is worth remembering that it took over 20 years to make the switch to BS 5950 Part 1 from BS 449. BSI seems to think that the switch to Eurocodes will take place over three years, but this is an impractical timetable. The European Commission agreed with the European Standards Organisation (CEN) that the switch would take at least six years or so. BSI might like everyone to purchase new standards within a three year timescale, but whereas that might suit BSI’s commercial needs, it would not suit the industry’s.

However, the steel industry recognises that we are approaching a transition period and is working hard to ensure that appropriate information and guidance will be available as and when required.

The steel sector is in talks with government, the procurement specialists in the Office of Government Commerce and leading clients to determine a clear definition of policy and a timetable. Everyone will be kept fully posted and fears about being left behind in the rush to ‘Europeanise’ steel design can be put to one side. Design to BS 5950 Part 1 can continue to be used for many years yet.

Competitive advantage growing

Prices of all the raw materials needed to make steel have been rising strongly on world markets as the commodities boom continues. Nobody can tell how much further this boom has to run, or how far raw materials prices might fall back when and if it does end.

One thing that can be reasonably confidently predicted though is that steel will retain its competitive advantage in the marketplace against competing materials. BCSA has predicted rises of an average of 15% for fabricated steelwork over the course of 2006. Producers of alternative materials are feeling the same upward pressures as steel manufacturers and it is worth remembering that a concrete framed building, for example, relies on steel to a remarkable degree, containing only 33% less steel than a steel framed building.

The market is choosing steel for a combination of reasons other than price anyway. The sustainability arguments for instance are compelling, with 94% of steel already recycled. This figure was achieved routinely before the world was anything like as sustainability conscious as it is today, and the industry is committed to making that figure rise.  Safety is another area where the steel sector is gaining recognition and clients increasingly ask, what price a safer site? Rather than focus on the price of steel, clients should be encouraged to look at the costs of not using it.

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