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CROSS Safety Report

Further concerns about competence

Report ID: 339 Published: 1 July 2013 Region: CROSS-UK

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A reporter raises concerns about competency, and the points raised demonstrate, says the reporter, a poor grasp first-principles on the part of many designers.

Key Learning Outcomes

For civil and structural design engineers:

  • A quality assurance system within your organisation, that includes the internal checking of calculations, can help prevent safety issues like this from occurring

  • Competent supervision of design by experienced personnel can allow less experienced engineers to develop a feel for what is the right solution

Full Report

Find out more about the Full Report

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 carries out steelwork connection design for fabricators. This involves using the output of the consulting engineer responsible for the frame design and specification of joint force. They say that they commonly identify problems with the incoming design and one example is on a two-storey steel framed section, part of a larger building constructed using other means.

The initial design had columns lacking lateral restraint; ie carrying edge beams but not tied to prevent out of plane movement. The design was then changed to introduce curved edge beams. These were UB-section and had only simple shears specified at the ends of the beams.

The reporter pointed out that this was not stable and then not only were the beam end reactions changed to include torsions but the beams revised to torsionally stiff RHS sections. Even then the reporter had to point out that some of the torsional moments at the ends of the beams still were carried by unrestrained two storey columns. This is fairly typical of the errors seen by the reporter’s firm which often involve issues of:

  • torsion

  • cantilevers

  • stability/loadpaths

  • equilibrium

  • robustness

These demonstrate, says the reporter, a poor grasp first-principles on the part of many designers.

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.

There are three generic problems that constantly recur:

  1. reliance on computer output without a proper understanding of implications and significance

  2. a failure to appreciate principles of stability either globally or in relation to members

  3. the traditional spilt between the overall designer and the fabricator on connection designs

Even if the detail connection design is handed on, there is a responsibility on the main designer to assure that connection design is compatible with required overall performance and is feasible.

Structural engineering is a safety-critical profession and comments here could be similar to those given for the previous report in relation to competency. Clients must satisfy themselves as to the competency of the designers prior to appointment, and to the management procedures within the organisation, including competency of the individuals, the checking regime, the resource allocation and other relevant aspects. Whilst this example refers to structural steelwork it could well relate to materials of any type.

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