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CROSS Safety Report

Dangerous modification to a column

Report ID: 169 Published: 1 July 2010 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

A reporter was requested to visit a warehouse to inspect work carried out to a main support column that had been modified by a builder.

Key Learning Outcomes

For building owners and managers:

  • Be aware of your responsibilities in ensuring that the work you are commissioning is undertaken by competent persons and that the necessary approvals are in place

  • Structural alterations should be assessed and designed by a suitably qualified and experienced engineer

For builders:

  • Be aware that unauthorised work can be reported to a local authority building control section and the authority may be able to prosecute

Full Report

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A reporter was requested to visit a warehouse to inspect work carried out to a column that was constantly being hit by a fork truck. The client had commissioned a 'design & build' contractor to remove the lower section of the column and support the higher section out of the path of the forklift with a cantilever. The client was concerned that the work 'did not look right'.

The photographs show the work that was carried out (Figure 1 and 2). The reporter spoke to the builder who confirmed that no calculations or detailed drawings had been prepared for the scheme. The new posts were merely resin anchored to the floor slab of the warehouse and covered with 200mm of unreinforced concrete.

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Figure 1: modified steel column
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Figure 2: modified steel column connection

The bolt holes did not line through and some bolts were at an angle between members. Welds were of varying quality and all work was carried out on site i.e., no shop fabrication. The most worrying fact was that there was no temporary propping to the column despite the works not being complete according to the builder. It was also learnt that building control were not informed of the proposed column removal. The reporter advised the Client to have temporary props installed immediately.

Expert Panel Comments

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Building owners must be mindful of their responsibilities in ensuring that the work they are commissioning is undertaken by competent persons and that the necessary approvals are in place. It appears here that the client has not appointed a competent contractor and/or designer who complied with CDM regulations. However, a lay client cannot be expected to know this, which is why contractors are obligated to inform them, and some ‘design and build’ contractors appear to be reluctant to use engineers except when a building control officer asks for calculations. Unauthorised work can be reported to a local authority building control section and the authority may be able to prosecute the builder for failure to give notice particularly if the builder is known to them as a repeat offender.

The wider picture is that performing unauthorised alterations and performing alterations where the full consequences have not been appreciated is a generic cause of failure and sometimes catastrophic failure. No work of any obviously structural nature should ever be designed other than by a competent designer (preferably a chartered engineer) and no work like this should be carried out other than by a competent contractor and the final work quality ought to be verified by the designer.

The difficulty is how to control the activities of unsuitable contractors. Should there be a carrot or stick? CROSS welcomes comments.

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