Building Code reform must be 'grass roots'

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamas Society of Engineers (BSE) president has voiced concern that the drive to update the country’s building codes is not being led by a “grass roots effort” featuring all stakeholders.

Quentin Knowles, arguing that The Bahamas was “way behind” on this initiative as Isaias threatens as a potential hurricane, told Tribune Business he had “anecdotal information” that the building code effort was “being led by a group in the Ministry of Works of a related department”.

However, he said few details - including proposed reforms and timelines - had been shared with the private sector stakeholders that have to use and implement the new code, such as engineers, contractors, architects and others.

Mr Knowles contrasted this with the approach taken by the Canadian Electrical Code technical committee, upon which he sits, and from whom the electrical code in The Bahamas is taken from. Having sat through several meetings, both physical and online, the engineers’ chief said he had been “struck” by how seriously any changes were treated and the broad-based consultation of all affected parties.

Besides the construction industry and associated professions such as his, Mr Knowles said the Canadian Electrical Code technical committee also involved the likes of realtors and other industries that had some connection to the subject.

Turning to The Bahamas’ own Building Code reform efforts, he added: “What has me concerned is that there has been very little contact with people who use this code. As far as I’m aware there’s not been any kind of engagement.

“I am concerned that we have a code, an updated code, that was updated from purely one perspective, which is not the intent. It has not taken a grass roots effort to produce a code. The code is not usable as it is biased in one direction if you have a code update led by regulators or regulated entities without equal input from other sectors.

“I am concerned as to what impact that will have on the construction industry. I’ve expressed that several times. I’m still hopeful they will engage the people, and engage them in meaningful ways so that we can produce an updated code,” the BSE president continued.

“We are on the front lines and know what works to protect the industry’s safety and integrity, but we have to participate in these things. I’m very hopeful that we have something in the works. We have hurricane season upon us and we have not heard anything. At the very least we are way behind.”

Mr Knowles said all other major building-related codes, such as the US National Fire Protection Code, which is annexed to The Bahamas’ building code, followed standard procedures and processes to produce an outcome where all private and public sector stakeholders provided feedback.

Others, too, are just as interested in an updated Bahamas Building Code following the $3.4bn in losses and damages inflicted by Hurricane Dorian. Tom Duff, Insurance Company of The Bahamas’ general manager, writing in its annual report, said: “In the aftermath of Dorian, insurers will be forced to focus more on construction standards, elevation and proximity to the sea when underwriting property risks.

“In this regard, I am sure that my colleagues in the industry will share my desire to see government introduce a strengthening of the Bahamas building code as soon as other priorities allow.”