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Lessons learnt from the Riga tragedy – Lithuania tightens state supervision over construction

2014-11-21

“The tragedy in Riga exactly one year ago when the roof of Maxima shopping centre collapsed killing 54 people taught us a global and a very painful lesson. We have therefore reinforced state supervision over construction and have drafted quite a few law revisions to tighten it further,” Minister for Environment, Kęstutis Trečiokas, said.

He passed an order to amend the technical construction regulation which governs special structures and to strengthen the features of buildings which are categorized as such buildings. The experts of the Ministry of Environment have also prepared the required revisions of the Law on Construction and the civil and administrative codes.

For example, the proposed amendments to the administrative code could allow improving the effectiveness of supervision by municipal authorities over the use of structures, special ones in particular, as well as increasing the responsibility of technical supervisors for improper organisational of the technical supervision over those structures. They will be subjected to sanctions if it turns out that the condition of a structure presents a health or life hazard to the people who are inside or near the structure and nothing is done to prevent an accident, if no emergency actions are taken to prevent further consequences after an accident, etc.

Once adopted, the proposed amendments will establish the responsibility of a legal entity for unlawful construction in the structures used. For instance, it is suggested to impose a fine between EUR 1,540 and 8,700 on a builder and/or contractor for construction work without stopping economic or other activities in a structure which is in use. Repeated offences would increase the fine by between EUR 5,800 and EUR 17,400.
The new revisions to the Civil Code are suggested to increase responsibility for the collapse of a structure and for damage caused. It will also apply to the contractor for the expert examination of the design documentation of a structure, whose responsibility, in some cases, will extend to defects found during the warranty period.

“The new legal revisions do not mean that we are putting a full stop here. Our professionals will continue to improve them. The State Inspectorate for Area Planning and Construction (VTPSI), which reports to the ministry, keeps a close watch on how the buildings are used,” minister Kęstutis Trečiokas pointed out.

VTPSI regularly inspects the country’s major shopping centres and stores. For example, it was found that a banner was put up on a wall of a store in Utena and attached to the building's bearing structures without any design documentation, and it was therefore removed immediately by instruction of the inspectors.

After the tragedy in Riga, people in Lithuania have also become more vigilant. At the slightest suspicion that a building may be used unsafely, they inform VTPSI immediately. The experts check these reports promptly. For example, a cinema called “Laikas” was inspected in Šiauliai following a report and was found to be under reconstruction without a document that permits construction.

People are encouraged to report unsafe use of structures or noticed violations of the construction requirements to VTPSI electronically on http://lan.vtpsi.lt/cgi-bin/KL1/pranesimas.pl.

Public information division
21 November 2014

Minister of Environment of Lithuania Kęstutis Navickas
Minister of Environment of Lithuania Kęstutis Navickas