The wider construction industry has traditionally used British Standards as a benchmark for what is considered good industry practice. BSI Group describes British Standards as an agreed, repeatable way of doing something.
It is a published document that contains a technical specification or other precise criteria designed to be used consistently as a rule, guideline, or definition.
Although British Standards do not themselves carry any legal authority, legislation and private contracts will often require adherence to them.
In many cases, therefore, the failure to adhere to a British Standard may result in a breach of contract which, in turn, could lead to a dispute. In any event, a British Standard provides a benchmark for what is acceptable and what is not.
However, now that we are part of a bigger European family, Britain - along with the rest of the EU member states - is obliged to ensure that standards are consistent on a European, rather than national, level.
On 1 April 2010, BSI withdrew 57 British Standards and replaced them with 10 new Eurocodes.
Although the old British Standards may still be used for private projects and will continue to meet building regulation requirements, they will not be maintained or updated.
The introduction of the Eurocodes has been described as “the most wide-ranging change to codification of civil and structural design ever experienced”. Most public projects will be required to use these new design standards.
It has, however, been reported that only 29 per cent of civil engineering organisations are prepared for the introduction of the codes, despite 58 per cent of members of the Institution of Civil Engineers rating the codes as important or very important to their work or the work of their organisation.
These figures suggest that the industry is not prepared for the arrival of the Eurocodes. Whether you love or loathe their introduction, it is important to recognise that from now on Eurocodes will dictate the required standards for the majority of pubic projects.
Over time, the replaced British Standards will become out of date and will probably be eclipsed by the Eurocodes.
With regards to defect disputes, issues often include whether or not works have been completed to the industry standard; in this case it is likely that the Eurocodes will become the benchmark.
Vijay Bange is a partner at City and international law firm Trowers & Hamlins LLP