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CROSS Safety Report

Failure to check designs produced by software

Report ID: 538 Published: 1 January 2016 Region: CROSS-UK

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Concerns were raised about a proprietary design software after a building control officer noticed a regular error appearing while checking calculations provided to them.

They are concerned that this error was not picked up by the designer or during an internal check.

Key Learning Outcomes

For civil and structural design engineers:

  • It is good practice to check and validate all design outputs from proprietary design software

  • If you are concerned with any of the output’s, consider raising this with the software technical support team and seeking clarification

  • Raising awareness is the first step in the process of bringing about improvements to industry

  • The importance of validating software is noted in the Institution of Civil Engineers Civil Engineering Journal August 2013 - The importance of understanding computer analysis in civil engineering.

Full Report

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The Full Report below has been submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s experience. The text has been edited for clarity and to ensure anonymity and confidentiality by removing any identifiable details. If you would like to know more about our secure reporting process or submit a report yourself, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.


A reporter works as a building control officer and recently checked some blockwork wall calculations for a new office building that had been undertaken using proprietary design software. They noticed a regular error appearing that returned a value of zero for the effective plan area when performing the check for the minimum area required.

They queried the designer about this who in turn asked the software developer and it turns out there was an error in the software that no one had picked up before. While this error did not affect the ultimate design for the building, they found the issue rather concerning. It indicated that there had been a limited check of the output of the design software all along the line. As the error was obvious, it should really have been picked up before being submitted to building control.

Expert Panel Comments

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It should not be down to building control to discover fundamental errors. In this case it is likely that the software had been used many times before without anyone noticing yet the error should have been picked up by the software house and by users. It also brings into question what kind of quality management systems or level of internal checking are being employed by designers.

There is well documented concern over inappropriate use of software and the reliance on software to give the right answer. Software should be validated and verified as noted in the Institution of Civil Engineers Civil Engineering Journal August 2013 ‘The importance of understanding computer analysis in civil engineering’.

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