Tighter checks needed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 July, 1998, 12:00am

It was only the vigilance of a conscientious engineer who noticed a discrepancy between the tonnage of cement required for the work specified and the amount used that brought to light a practice which threatens to be the biggest Hong Kong construction scandal since sea water was used to mix cement.

So far, 15 building projects allied to the airport railway are under investigation for deficient core drilling techniques of the type first detected on the Central reclamation last month. All involve structures which are under construction. Safety standards could have been seriously compromised if the discrepancies had not been spotted. It remains to be seen whether there are other examples in buildings which are occupied.

So the question that architectural consultants and contractors will be asked is why on-site surveillance failed to spot what was going on.

This was not an isolated incident. On the contrary, it appears to be common practice, leading to the conclusion that something is lacking in the system of checks which are supposed to be carried out at regular intervals during the construction process.

Buildings raised on reclaimed land have to be anchored firmly to ensure stability. The remedial work required because of failure to sink the piles deep enough will cost the construction companies responsible hundreds of millions of dollars. That may prove the biggest incentive towards ensuring that work is carried out according to specification in future.

Supervision procedures should be able to guarantee that the supervisor whose signature is on the documents was the one who did the checking. Legal responsibility for this rests with 'approved persons' and registered structural engineers, but the actual process is often delegated to junior employees. Lax supervision encourages mistakes and malpractice. When it also threatens public safety, something must be done to make sure that it does not happen again.