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Building codes needed now
On August 21st 2018 at 5.30 pm, members of the Trinidad and Tobago Institute of Architects (TTIA) were about to attend a presentation entitled “Mexico City: Earthquake and Innovative Architecture.” At 5.31 pm, Trinidad and Tobago was struck by a 6.9 magnitude earthquake.
Thankfully, there were no reports of any deaths. However, this raises the question of why there is still no national building code in T&T? Building codes are extremely important as they establish the minimum standard for the protection of the health and safety of the public - a must for any country. As we hopefully move forward in this regard, there are two facts regarding codes that must first be understood:
1. Building codes are most effective when tailored to a specific context and interpreted and implemented by trained professionals.
In the absence of a local building code, and prompted by a sense of professional duty, locally registered architects and engineers have adopted international codes and standards. These include the International Building Code (IBC), the US National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) standards.
However, a code specifically tailored to the specificities of our climate and seismic activity is crucial.
Also, the term “registered” is critical, as it demonstrates that an architect or engineer has undergone the rigour of years of education, training and testing. Furthermore, upon being registered, they are required to improve their skills through continued professional development (CPD) programmes.
Both architects and engineers have presented amendments to their respective Acts which would make registration mandatory for practice in the respective fields, as is currently the case for plumbers, electricians, doctors and lawyers. The amendments to the following acts have been submitted to the Ministry of Works and are awaiting action:
i. Amendments to the Engineering Profession Act Chapter 90:01 (Act 34 of 1985) - submitted by the Board of Engineering of Trinidad and Tobago (BOETT)
ii. Amendments to the Architecture Profession Act No. 19 of 1992 - submitted earlier this year by the Board of Architecture of Trinidad and Tobago (BOATT)
Both of these acts would be further bolstered by the Planning and Facilitation of Development Act 2014, which outlines mechanisms for the implementation of a National Planning Authority. This body would advise the Minister of Planning on matters such as development regulations, standards and practices for building and engineering operations.
But even with these measures in place, progress would not be achieved without the involvement of competent contractors. To date, there is still no licencing requirement for contractors. The public remains at risk, as was the case with five-year-old Pawaan Granger, who was crushed to death by a falling wall at his Fyzabad home earlier this year.
2 In order to be effective, the enforcement of codes is vital.
The earthquakes in Tobago in 1982 resulted in significant damage and in 1997 caused US$25m in destruction and left several homeless. This event prompted the publication of the “Guide to the Design and Construction of Small Buildings,” which was an exemplary joint effort between the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards (TTBS), the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago (APETT) and BOETT. Unfortunately, as beneficial as it is, no one is required by law to conform to this guide.
When the enforcement of codes and standards is included in legislation, then the Government and its citizens possess a powerful tool to hold persons/entities accountable in cases of negligence.
The proactive mindset of our registered architects, engineers and competent contractors has protected us thus far but we must not be complacent. Having been clearly warned by The UWI Seismic Research Centre, the Government has an obligation and a mandate to take immediate action to implement and enforce building codes. Every citizen of this country deserves no less.
Ronald Ammon is a registered architect and president of the T&T Institue of Architects.
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