Reducing Risk in Structural Concrete Design

The Concrete Institute of Australia is running a series of full day seminars on Structural Concrete Design for Extreme Events in each of the mainland capitals:

See:  Structural Concrete Design for Extreme Events for details of dates and locations in each state.

The aim of these seminars is not just to focus on design for earthquake and fire, but to encourage a focus on a design approach that will reduce the risks arising from all sorts of unexpected events.

In recent years the legal focus on risk reduction has moved from consideration of the possible risks towards a focus on the available precautions, regardless of the probability of the associated risks. The latter approach requires that risks should be eliminated or minimised “so far as is reasonably practicable”, whereas the risk focussed approach requires that the overall risk should be “as low as reasonably practicable”.

The precaution based approach is presented as providing a clear definition of the risk reduction measures that must be taken, but the question remains, how is it to be decided if a given precautionary measure is “reasonably practicable” or not? A precaution based approach has much to commend it, but from the engineer’s perspective it moves the risk minimisation process from one where correct procedures are reasonably well defined in specifications and codes of practice, to one where decisions must be made on the basis of judgement and experience.

The engineer may see it as unfortunate that two radically different approaches towards the minimisation of risks are described by phrases that at face value have identical meanings, but as engineers we must recognise the world as it is, and find ways to deal with it. A precaution based approach to risk minimisation requires not just a thorough knowledge of structural theory and code requirements, but also a knowledge of techniques that will improve the robustness of structures at low cost, and a knowledge of what is considered current best practice.

Regardless of an increased focus on precautionary measures, risk minimisation also continues to require an awareness of the possible risks, a best estimate of their probability, and a knowledge of the likely consequences. This also requires knowledge outside that found in codes of practice, which are necessarily restricted in the scope of their data, and have a significant time lag in incorporating new research and procedures.

The first of the Concrete Institute’s National Seminars this year is entitled “Structural Concrete Design for Extreme Events” and will deliver detailed guidance on designing robust structures that will provide increased resistance to not just earthquakes and fire, but also other infrequent but possibly calamitous events such as impact or blast loading, extreme storm loading, or gross foundation movements.

The seminars will be presented by three of Australia’s leading experts in their respective fields.

  • Professor Stephen Foster is Head of School at the University of New South Wales, and has developed an international reputation for his work on high strength concrete and structural robustness.
  • Professor John Wilson is Executive Dean at Swinburne University and a past president and continuing active member of the Australian Earthquake Engineering Society. He has a long-standing interest in earthquake engineering, structural dynamics and blast engineering.
  • Professor José Torero is Professor of Civil Engineering and Head of School at the University of Queensland, and also has a truly international reputation as a leader in research and education in his area of fire engineering.

These seminars present a rare opportunity to hear from three such distinguished presenters on a subject of essential importance to all practicing structural engineers, and I encourage all to attend.

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