Latvian Roof Collapse: Another Failure in Building Control

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Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
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The fallout from the supermarket roof collapse which killed 54 people including three firemen in Latvia was so great that the prime minister resigned despite being widely credited with having engineered the country away from insolvency.

The cause of the collapse has not yet been finally determined and the government is seeking to engage international experts to assist with diagnosis and the revision of technical codes. There had, however, been torrential rain for some days and the roof was undergoing building work as a roof garden was under construction. Apparently, when the roof collapsed, the building flooded and there is speculation that the building’s drainage was not up to speed.

Interestingly, the Latvian national building inspectorate had been dismantled in 2009 on account of post-GFC austerity measures and there is general acknowledgement that the regulatory oversight and enforcement regime was not what it could have been. Mention has also been made of “a culture of cronyism” in this part of the world.

Sadly, this is merely the latest episode in a year which has seen hundreds killed in a Brazil nightclub inferno and scores of workers killed in factory fires in Bangladesh, with failures in building control holistics and inadequate enforcement partly due to underfunding of regulatory agencies appearing to be a common underlying theme.

Whilst in Latvia’s case, certain folk appear to appreciate how insufficient resourcing within compliance regimes can lead to inadequate enforcement of building regulations and eventual tragedy, this is a concept which applies worldwide.

Too often, local governments neglect this area in favour of others such as car parking infringements which directly benefit the bottom line.

This is wrong; parking violations don’t cause death, but shoddy building practices do. Wherever the money comes from, regulatory compliance regimes need to be properly funded and resourced.

Otherwise, even the best building codes in the world will amount to nothing.

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