Beware the Ides of March! (REDUCING LIABILITIES – DID YOU CHECK IT??)

When Julius Caesar was warned that there would be an attempt on his life by the Ides of March, he laughed it off on his way to the Senate, where he’s murdered that evening. A group of folks with good intentions plotted a course of action that was completely unnecessary. A few simple actions on Caesar’s part also could have resulted in a significantly different result for his country, his people, and himself personally.

As an EIT, I had a wonderful mentor who also owned the firm reviewing one of my projects, and he asked me if I had checked ALL of the load cases required by the current building code. I told him that by inspection some of the cases were not controlling, so I had simply not put them in the software we were using for analysis. His response surprised me, as it wasn’t about the analysis and design of structural members, but rather about the business side of engineering and liability.

He posed the following question to me. “Let’s say that our firm is named in a lawsuit on this project – one that has nothing to do with our scope of work, maybe it’s an ADA suit. You’re called to the stand to testify, and the lawyer asks if you checked all possible load combinations required by code and if you documented them. You’ve got an electronic model showing that you checked most of the combinations, and a smart lawyer may point out that it would have only taken a minimal effort to include the rest. This calls into question the effort and diligence you put into this project. Even though there’s no direct correlation, you’ve potentially exposed yourself to an absolutely unnecessary liability.” His point was this – with just a minimal amount of effort and change in work processes, you can confidently be assured that you’ve not needlessly exposed yourself to potential liability.

As structural engineers, you have a strict liability to design a safe and serviceable structure, remembering that the code requirement are really just the stated minimums. Like political assassinations, code changes happen – some are well thought out and researched while others are knee-jerk reactions to a bad situation (real or perceived). Additionally, we live in a litigious society, and in the current economy a lawsuit can be an attractive “out” for a project that’s become problematic for one or more parties.

Whether you’re concerned with the number of code combinations required to be checked on a new project, which set of code limit states needs to be checked, or which edition of those codes should be used, I would like to reiterate my mentor’s lesson. Use a thoughtful workflow and standards together with the tools available to you in order to make sure you’ve dotted i’s and crossed t’s. Using the documentation features of your design software and letting the computer do what it does well – crunching numbers - is such a little effort that goes a long way in reducing liabilities.

No engineering firm today can manually check all possible combinations on anything more than a simple structure; there’s simply not enough billable hours on a project. That’s one of the many reasons for tools like GT STRUDL. Good engineering judgment is important. So is good business judgment – don’t let the answer to “did you check THAT” be NO.

Last month we talked about the pain of change, I hope that this month’s article starts good business discussions to help you avoid this particular pain.

Don’t be like Caesar thinking the danger has passed because “the Ides of March have come,” because they certainly haven’t gone.

Vol. 3 | Issue 3 | March 2016

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Did you know that GT STRUDL allows you to control the quantity of the output that you receive from an analysis? You can also show the results output by loading, joint, member, or element. Before outputting your results, give some thought to type and quantity of output that you will be requesting. One of our users turned on all our output options from an analysis and design and sent the output to a printer – 100,000 pages of output!

You can view the joint displacements, member end forces, section forces, and steel design code check results using Data Sheets in the main GT STRUDL window (often referred to as the command window).

The joint displacement, member end forces and section force data sheets are under the results drop down, while the steel code check data sheet is under the steel design drop down. Filtering and sorting functions allow you to easily locate results. Example

To find out more about each data sheet, select “Help” in the data sheet.

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Geoff Blumber
North America Channel Manager CADWorx & Analysis Solutions