Why we should embrace new structural engineering codes

A business building that collapsed in Kamukunji. [Wilberforce Okwiri,Standard]

As the world becomes more of a global village, so too will global quality standards keep evolving to keep up with the times. For instance, emerging global trends will soon make it necessary for Kenyan engineers to abandon the use of British Standards and Codes of Practice for engineering structures and adopt what is now commonly known as Structural Eurocodes.

Over the years, British Standards and Codes of Practice have been widely used in structural engineering practice in Kenya. However, in 2010, the British Standards Institution, the European Union member countries and the European Free Trade Association changed from using British Standards to Structural Eurocodes, a move that aims to break trade barriers caused by different technical specifications and design approaches used from one European country to another.

With only a few years left to the realisation of Kenya’s Vision 2030 development goal, speeding up deployment of robust and high quality infrastructure will be fundamental to transforming Kenya into a middle income economy that is competitive and prosperous with a high quality of life.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s development blueprint, the Big Four Agenda, comprising of food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and affordable healthcare, also spotlights sound structural facilities as the backbone of development.

Globally, structural engineering standards establish common design criteria, methods and understanding regarding the design of structures. These are expected to be agreed between owners, operators and users, designers, contractors and manufacturers of construction products. This ensures increased structural safety and quality and removal of non-tariff trade barriers.

Since the British Standards are no longer supported by the original developer — the British Standards Institution — they are no longer subjected to regular reviews to incorporate new knowledge and advancements in science. They are, therefore, bound to be withdrawn.

Normally, a standard should be reviewed constantly, approximately every five years, for it to remain current and applicable.

It is important to note that Eurocodes have over 30 years of development, which means they are technically superior standards. They emphasise structural safety, say of buildings and robustness of design to ensure that the structures will not collapse or fail to serve the intended function.

This is a problem that is all too common in developing countries, Kenya included, where cases of buildings collapsing are frequent. Eurocodes require that design and execution should be done by qualified and experienced persons to avoid such pitfalls. Another best practice in the Eurocode is adequate supervision and quality control during and after design and construction.

A notable change in the Eurocodes is the difference in design approach. For example, in structural design, the Eurocode uses cylinder strength as opposed to cube strength. Factors of safety and design considerations have also changed. Additionally, specifying and testing of concrete — which was largely based on cube strength - is now based on cylinder strength.

Today, many countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and South America have adopted the Eurocodes. In Africa, South Africa, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Madagascar and Ethiopia among others are in different stages of adopting Eurocodes.

Recently, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KeBS) standard the process of harmonising Eurocodes. This has allowed the development of a National Annex with Nationally Determined Parameters factoring in the country’s climatic conditions that vary from one region to another.

These parameters are critical in designing infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges. One of the climatic factors put into consideration is earthquake design. Wind mapping is another.

For Kenya to fully adopt Eurocodes, there is need for training and entrenching best practices. Universities should, therefore, teach using Eurocodes. Similarly, structural designs for approval should be submitted in Eurocodes.

Specifications in contracts, general and specific conditions in design and construction also need to reflect and apply the use of Eurocodes so that all players in the industry speak the same language. All design software, testing equipment and quality control processes also need to be calibrated and adjusted to Eurocodes.

Additionally, there is need to facilitate close collaboration and sensitisation of all stakeholders – starting with engineering professionals, government agencies, training institutions and consumers. This will ensure a unified system that safeguards consistency in materials, design, execution and testing as outlined in the Eurocodes for safe, reliable, functional, economical and resilient structures that can withstand climatic threats such as wildfires, floods and droughts.

It is expected that countries which adopt Eurocodes will increase their global competitiveness, quality, safety and reliability of structures like buildings. Adopting Eurocodes will also improve health, fire safety and innovation. This is in addition to enhanced energy economy, stability of structures as well as environmental considerations.

Eng Kiteme is a member of the National Implementation Committee on Eurocodes at the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), while Ms Maina is the Manager, Mechanical and Civil Engineering Standards at KEBS.