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CROSS Safety Report

Fatality from free standing wall collapse

Report ID: 59 Published: 1 January 2008 Region: CROSS-UK

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A report was received from a local authority about a boundary wall to the front garden of a domestic property that collapsed suddenly resulting in the death of a child who was passing.

Key Learning Outcomes

For civil and structural design engineers:

  • Careful consideration is required for the design of cantilevered masonry walls, particularly in the temporary stage because there is no redundancy and relatively small loads at the tip can precipitate failure

  • Consider what reasonably foreseeable loads could be applied beyond the code minimum values on elements such as freestanding walls

For homeowners and construction professionals:

  • Be aware that masonry walls should be designed and assessed by a suitably qualified and experienced engineer

Full Report

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This section contains the Full Report submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s concerns or experiences. However, the text has been edited for clarity, and identifiable details have been removed to ensure anonymity and confidentiality. 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 report was received from a local authority about a boundary wall to the front garden of a domestic property that collapsed suddenly resulting in the death of a child who was passing. The 1.7m high wall was constructed from a single leaf of 100mm thick hollow concrete blocks (Figure 1). The wall was subject to lateral pressure from an immediately adjacent tree and building materials stored at the rear of the wall.

Figure 1: collapsed masonry wall

Expert Panel Comments

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As well as this reports to CROSS there have been many articles in the press about injuries and fatalities from free standing wall collapses. Several years ago, there was lengthy correspondence on the subject in the Journal of the Institution of Structural Engineers. In Northern Ireland there are moves to introduce regulations covering new construction while in Scotland there have been regulations covering walls more than 1.2m high for some years.

It is widely known that free standing walls are often poorly constructed and not adequately maintained. CROSS hopes to discuss this with the Sustainable Buildings Division of Communities and Local Government.

Failure in free standing walls occurs with little or no warning and because they are cantilevers collapse is inevitable. The main design document for brick and blockwork walling is the British Standard BS 5628, Code of Practice for the use of masonry: Part 1 Structural use of unreinforced masonry, and Part 3 Materials and components, design and workmanship.  

There is also the emerging Eurocode BS EN 1996 on masonry. Other guidance documents available which give advice:

  • Design of Free Standing Walls - Brick Development Association

  • A Reinforced Brickwork Freestanding Boundary Wall - Brick Development Association

  • Building brick or blockwork freestanding walls - Building Research Establishment, Good Building Guide - GBG 14

  • Surveying brick or blockwork freestanding walls - Building Research Establishment GBG 13

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