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CROSS Safety Report

Design responsibility for temporary stability of steel frame building

Report ID: 789 Published: 1 April 2019 Region: CROSS-UK

This report is over 2 years old

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Overview

A reporter raises concerns about the division of responsibility for the temporary stability of a four-storey steel frame structure with precast concrete planks and a structural topping.

They feel that splitting design responsibility for temporary works inevitability provides opportunity for confusion.

Key Learning Outcomes

For construction professionals:

  • Quality control and competent supervision on site can help to ensure that the structure is built in accordance with the design and prevent the removal of bracing members as highlighted in this report
  • Having a competent temporary works designer/adviser in place to supply an engineered solution can ensure all temporary works are carefully considered and planned
  • Verification of temporary works erection by a competent person who can oversee and coordinate the whole process can also ensure the works are installed correctly
  • The Temporary Works forum (TWf) is a source of useful information on this topic, and published Information Sheet 3 - CDM 2015 - Principal Designer: Guidance on Temporary Works in 2017

For civil and structural design engineers:

  • This report highlights the potential value of visits by the design team who may (as on this occasion) identify a problem. If you are unable to attend site, consider asking the contractor for site photos of the installation of critical structural elements such as bracing members.

  • Specific to steel framed building, the British Constructional Steelwork Association (BCSA) Guide to the Erection of Multi-Storey Buildings provides advice on maintaining stability during construction

Full Report

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Our secure and confidential safety reporting system gives professionals the opportunity to share their experiences to help others. If you would like to know more, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.

This event concerns the temporary stability of a four-storey steel frame structure with precast concrete planks and a structural topping. A reporter says that during the erection of the structure, the contractor had provided temporary steel bracing to a number of the bays. This was to stabilise the structure and prevent it from swaying. The bracing was in the form of flat steel plates arranged diagonally.

Unbolted bracing member

Whilst attending site, the visiting structural engineer found one of the bracing members unbolted at the base of a column. The column where the bracing should have been fixed to was located at the perimeter of the building where the outside ground level was lower than the internal slab level. To protect operatives from falls, edge protection had been provided. But when installing the edge protection, the bracing had been unbolted.

Several temporary works design concerns

The situation was plainly unsafe and indicated both a disregard for safety by the operative who unbolted the bracing and a lack of control, supervision and oversight from the main contractor. For the same project, several concerns were found about the temporary works design for the temporary stability of the frame.

How the division of responsibility can lead to confusion

During the project, the engineer had communicated that until the concrete planks were grouted together, the diaphragm for distributing the lateral loads should be assumed to be incomplete. The implication of this was that the stability of the structure was the responsibility of the contractor until the diaphragm was complete.

The steel frame subcontractor was responsible for both the erection of the steel frame and the landing of the precast concrete planks. Whilst they were willing to take on design responsibility for the temporary stability of the steel frame without planks, they passed on design responsibility for the steel frame when the precast planks had been landed to the main contractor.

This division of responsibility was unexpected and led to confusion between the two temporary works designers. The steel frame subcontractor used moment fixity from the beam end-plate connections and the main contractor assumed perfectly pinned beam-column connections that required cross-bracing. The latter approach eventually proved to be very conservative and had to be revised to be cost effective.

This division of responsibility was unexpected and led to confusion between the two temporary works designers. The steel frame subcontractor used moment fixity from the beam end-plate connections and the main contractor assumed perfectly pinned beam-column connections that required cross-bracing

Lack of accompanying connection designs raises concerns

When the main contractor began the temporary stability design for the steel frame with concrete planks, they requested to see the calculations that had been completed by the steel frame subcontractor for the frame without planks.

Stability was justified based on the moment capacity of the end-plate connections, . Whilst this principle was sensible, there were no accompanying calculations. The structural engineer deemed this was insufficient to demonstrate that the frame would be stable during construction.

Lessons learned

There are, says the reporter, two lessons learned from the above experiences. The first is that temporary works designers for main contractors may not have adequate experience to undertake the temporary works design for the stability of a steel frame. Given the size of the structure, the lack of calculation initially provided by the steel subcontractor was also of concern and may be indicative of a more widespread problem within the industry.

The second lesson is that splitting design responsibility for temporary works inevitability provides opportunity for confusion, but thankfully did not endanger safety in this case.

Expert Panel Comments

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Expert Panels comment on the reports we receive. They use their experience to help you understand what can be learned from the reports. If you would like to know more, please visit the CROSS-UK Expert Panels page.

CROSS has always advocated that there should always be one designer with overall responsibility for stability. Whilst this normally applies to preserving stability of the finished structure, the principle ought equally to apply during construction when arguably the risk of an instability failure is highest.

Principal contractor duties under CDM 2015

Regulation 13 of CDM Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) ultimately places the duty on the principal contractor to plan, manage and monitor the construction phase and coordinate matters relating to health and safety during the construction phase to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, construction work is carried out without risks to health or safety.

In all situations, the principal contractor’s Temporary Works Coordinator (TWC) (or contractor’s if a small job) should have oversight of maintaining stability. However, the designer should be involved in a collaborative manner to ensure stability.

The value of site visits by the design team

This report also highlights the potential value of visits by the design team who may (as on this occasion) identify a problem. A current trend to minimise site attendance by the design team is most undesirable; a matter that was brought up in the Edinburgh Schools Inquiry and the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: final report.

Reference should also be made to the following;

Specific to steel framed building, the British Constructional Steelwork Association (BCSA) Guide to the Erection of Multi-Storey Buildings provides advice on maintaining stability during construction.

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