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CROSS Safety Report

House collapse

Report ID: 128 Published: 1 January 2009 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

This is a case of collapse caused by a builder not carrying out underpinning works as detailed by the design engineer.

Key Learning Outcomes

For homeowners:

  • Competent contractors should be appointed to undertake and deliver the project. Alteration works should be carried out by competent builders who carry appropriate insurance.

  • Consider requesting for the engineer to attend site to supervise and ensure complex works such as underpinning are being carried out in accordance with the construction methodology

For builders:

  • Alterations to the design engineers sequencing of excavations and preliminary works should not be done without their approval

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This is a case of collapse caused by a builder carrying out underpinning works. The property is a semi-detached house which at sometime had been part of a larger terrace. It had only recently been bought by a first time buyer who noticed a problem with the gable wall and a structural engineer was commissioned to investigate.

The recommendations in the report from the structural engineer was that a new external leaf should be constructed off a new foundation including underpinning of the existing wall in short sections. The report also described works to be carried out before underpinning and these included a requirement to tie the existing wall into the main house. The engineer gave advice to the owner on the selection of a suitably qualified contractor and also offered to supervise.

Unfortunately, the owner instead decided to engage a builder on the recommendation of a friend. The builder also ignored the engineer’s report in respect of preliminary works and sequencing of excavations. Instead, a trench was excavated the full length of the gable and left overnight without any temporary support.

The builder also ignored the engineer’s report in respect of preliminary works and sequencing of excavations.

During the early hours of the morning, the wall collapsed, and Figure 1 shows the condition of the wall when the building control officer attended. The occupiers of the house were lucky not to be injured and were rescued by the Fire Service. To make matters worse, the builder was uninsured and the owner’s insurers will not accept liability.

Image
Figure 1: collapse after failure to underpin

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.

This is a tragedy for the owner who unwittingly appointed an incompetent builder after starting on the correct path by engaging a structural engineer. All alteration work should be carried out by competent builders who carry appropriate insurance - but how is an owner to know this? Cowboy builders are the stuff of TV exposures but more needs to be done to inform the public of the risks involved in appointing the wrong person or firm.

There is no regulation or licensing system in the industry which covers this gap and CROSS would be pleased to have views on the subject. These collapses are similar to some of the cases the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Specialist Inspectors of Construction Engineering have investigated, which involved fatalities, such as at Stanley Road, Bootle (29 January 2000) in which a man died.

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