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Protecting public health and safety in the wake of Genoa bridge tragedy

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the port city of Genoa

The collapsed Morandi Bridge in Genoa, August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

A sudden bridge collapse in the heart of Genoa, Italy killed over 40 people on August 14. The bridge was completed in 1967.

The bridge fell 148 feet, taking about three dozen cars and three trucks with it. The bridge was known to have been in deteriorating condition and required constant repair work since its completion. Both the design and maintenance of the bridge is being investigated as authorities try to determine the cause for the collapse. The Genoa bridge was also part of a privatized highway system and the company that operated the bridge was responsible for inspection and maintenance. Some observers have pointed out that when infrastructure is privatized, the profit motive of the private company may represent a conflict of interest between the good of the public and the good of the company.

Here in the US, major infrastructure systems are operating beyond their intended life span. For the most part, we rely on rigorous inspection and maintenance systems to extend that life span. Design professionals must remain vigilant and, above all, remember that their ultimate obligation is to protect public health, safety, and welfare.

For those firms that perform inspections of existing structures, there are some things you can do to help mitigate your risks:

  • Take steps beyond your scope of services, if the condition calls for it, if you discover a condition that is dangerous to public safety.
  • Clearly state the scope of services and the limitations on the purpose of the inspections in the report.
  • Make aware both the client and anyone reading the report that unless a service is expressly included in the scope, it was not performed and there should be no assumptions that the service was performed.
  • Acknowledge in the inspection report that the reported conditions only apply to that specific point in time that is clearly identified, and communicate that facility conditions may change subsequent to the report.

Please see our Management Advisory on studies and reports for further guidance (access limited to current policyholders and brokers). You should assume that your facility inspection reports will be part of any investigation pertaining to a sudden collapse of the facility.

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