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CROSS Safety Report

Critical wall failure

Report ID: 135 Published: 1 July 2009 Region: CROSS-UK

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There has been a report about the top triangle of a brickwork gable in a relatively modern building collapsing in high winds and very seriously injuring two passers-by.

Key Learning Outcomes

For the construction team:

  • Quality assurance and competent supervision on site can help to ensure that the structure is built in accordance with the design

  • Consider introducing a quality management procedure for the inspection of safety critical elements such wall ties and lateral restraints

Full Report

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There has been a report about the top triangle of a brickwork gable in a relatively modern building collapsing in high winds and very seriously injuring two passers by. The reporter believes that the cause was a lack of ties between the brickwork and the adjoining timber trusses.

Contractors, says the reporter, come under the remit of the CITB (Construction Industry Training Board), and some of their courses on general safety might help. They go on to say that it is however an entirely different matter getting small contractors to give up the time and earnings necessary for such training, and it seems to them that this is an element that should be pushed strongly forward.

They imagine that to have a realistic effect, Government money would have to be found to pay people to go on such courses, not merely to subsidise the direct costs. There might well be, they consider, a significant payback in a reduction in deaths and injuries, not to mention in prosecution costs after the event.

Expert Panel Comments

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Gable walls must be properly tied to resist wind suction. The Approved Document for Part A of the building regulations (paragraphs 2C36 and 37 and diagram 16) shows the tying that is required by means of tension straps at not more than 2m centres at the top of a gable wall and at the level of the bottom of the roof trusses. Guidance is also given in BS 5628 Code of Practice for the use of masonry and in Eurocode EN 1996.

However, any lack of restraint straps or adequate fixings should be evident on an inspection of the roof space, even though access may be difficult, but there is no requirement for this type of inspection to be carried out by a Building Control Body. The number of inspections carried out by Building Control Bodies is currently (2009) under review.

The frequency of inspections is linked to risk assessment but there should be greater emphasis on the risks associated with inadequate restraint for the benefit of all involved. Training and advice at many levels is given by CITB. As a leading member of the Sector Skills Council, Construction Skills understands the needs of employers and workers to ensure a safe, professional and fully qualified workforce.

They provide advice, courses and funds for training to help improve construction businesses. Notwithstanding, it is incumbent upon those constructing the building to ensure the work is adequately supervised.

Robustness in general will be dealt with in a forthcoming report from the Institution of Structural Engineers (due in 2010).

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