Retrospective Compliance & Duty of Care

Retrospective Compliance & Duty of Care

Duty of Care

The requirement of retrospective compliance of structures and an engineer’s duty of care comes under two banners:

1. When alterations and additions are proposed.

Alterations and additions to buildings are common ways to freshen up a residential environment. In a strata block, methods to achieve this are commonly to remove walls within the building or to upgrade balconies. Many get excited at the prospect of making the alterations or additions but may forget that the alteration or addition relies on existing structure. Expectations may be let down when one realises that the alteration itself is not all that needs to be considered and ultimately paid for.  For reasons of safety as well as adherence to changing codes of practice, responsible engineers have a duty of care to consider the alteration as well as the remaining supporting structure.

Suppose an additional floor is to be added to a building. If the structural engineer only designed the proposed structural components of that new level but did not consider if the structure supporting the addition can support the new loads, this would be considered neglectful and irresponsible. Wall removals in a similar way require that the remaining structure be affected within the bounds of the Australian Standards.

At times, it is determined that the existing structure is already non-compliant to today’s Australian Standards. The law does not require structures to retrospectively adhere to every change that is brought out in the regularly updated Australian Standards.  However, as discussed above, engineers are responsible for the proposed and existing structure to ensure that the safety of the building is maintained. Therefore, if a building does not currently comply to today’s Standards, but alterations to it are proposed, the engineer must ensure that not only the alteration is to be in accord to current standards but that the supporting structure is retrospectively compliant to current standards as well.

In our experience, some clients have not realised that a structural engineer’s scope is to ensure retrospective compliance to remaining existing structures – when an alteration is proposed. What may seem to be a small alteration, such as removing a small portion of wall or replacing a balcony balustrade, can require some significant engineering if the building is already non-compliant to begin with.

Furthermore, if the structure is found to have been never been compliant, it is a law requirement that the structure be retrospectively altered, remediated or removed to allow current Australian Standard compliance. Therefore the issue is of similar nature to when a structure has a council order against it. This is issue discussed below.

2. When a structure has a council order.

Councils issue orders to owners of structures when they are alerted to obvious structural concerns which could endanger public safety. A council order is of serious matter and ignoring an order can have serious consequences.

Today, the most common orders MJ Civil encounter are orders issued against existing commercial awnings.  The reason is that awnings are commonly over a public domain and they are readily visible the public and council inspectors. In recent years awnings in NSW have come under scrutiny when the failure of an awning caused the death of a member of the public.

When an order is issued, the owner of the structure is required to engage a structural engineer to inspect and report on the sighted issues. If the structural engineer determines that the structure requires remediation in a certain region of the structure, it is the engineers duty of care that the remediated structural components be supported by surrounding structure which also complies to current Australian Standard. Therefore, in a similar way to when alterations and additions are proposed, retrospective compliance is a requirement. The difference is that structures with orders against them have little choice but to comply with the structural engineers requirements in order to satisfy current Australian Standards.

MJ Civil take pride in providing a responsible service to their clients by adhering to current standards and codes. We endeavour to be transparent and explanatory to our clients so that their expectations are met without compromising our duty of care as structural engineers. We strive to provide elegant structural solutions which benefit our clients, builders and the public alike.