By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – After the collapse of three buildings in downtown Rio de Janeiro in late January left at least seventeen people dead, new concerns about the condition of high-rise residential and office blocks are being raised. Now questions are being asked of CREA (the Regional Council of Engineering and Architecture), the institution whose responsibility it is to ensure those who own building comply with legal requirements.
There is no doubt that CREA has an enormous job on its hands, particularly in Rio: it inspected 29,426 construction sites there in 2011.
Thanks to the construction boom Rio has been experiencing, and the fact that the number of sites in Rio given the green light for construction work increased 26 percent last year, it is a job that gets bigger every day.
However, eyebrows were raised after it was revealed that despite 4,896 “irregularities” being identified last year at those construction sites, over sixteen percent of them, there has not a single structural engineer license suspended or revoked in the past two years, according to the Brazilian press.
It has been pointed out that there were far more serious penalties six years ago, when professionals found lacking were simply struck off. But over the past few years, these punishments have apparently been replaced by simple warnings.
For its part, CREA says that the fall in license suspensions is down to professionals showing more respect for the laws in place: “In the past, there was a certain disrespect for the laws. Professionals didn’t believe CREA would act, as the agency hadn’t been following through on its remit, checking the work of engineers.”
“In 2006, we tightened the net. It made everyone understand they had to comply with the law,” said CREA-RJ president Agostinho Guerreiro.
Following the three-building collapse on Avenida Treze de Maio, the construction industry has been wondering what reactive legislation, if any, would be coming their way. But it appears that a measured approach is being taken.
There has been talk of resuscitating a shelved legislative project which would see mandatory, self-regulated inspections – meaning owners would have to hire a licensed professional to come and inspect their building and be responsible for submitting the report to the authorities, an idea initially brought forward by Rio City Mayor Eduardo Paes.
Municipal Secretary Chief of Staff Pedro Paulo Carvalho says officials have been discussing the idea again:
“We know we are unable to inspect all the city’s buildings, but we will have to decide how self-regulated inspection will work in APACs [Áreas de Proteção do Ambiente Cultural - areas protected due to their cultural surroundings],” he said. “We are studying how to incentive owners to comply.”
But many industry experts, including TSS Brazil Group consultancy co-founder Jonathan Kendall, are saying that “more law to skirt around” is not the answer, and that efforts should be redoubled for better enforcement and industry standards:
“A well-run bureaucracy is sorely needed; a new, poorly-run organization will cause more problems than it will fix. We need more trained City Hall engineers to review quickly and accurately well-prepared designs and plans made by professional architects and engineers,” Mr. Kendall told The Rio Times.
“It will require more time for the process, more trained professionals who can make decisions, and it will take political will and management,” he concluded, adding that the changes would undoubtedly impact on costs for design, insurance, management and construction.
An official police report into the reasons behind the fatal buildings collapse will be released at the beginning of March. It is thought that any new legislation or enforceable mandatory requirements may only be put in place once this report is published.