CROSS Safety Report
Inadequate structural design for domestic properties
This report is over 2 years old
A reporter has recently been asked to redesign several projects for domestic extensions/alterations, where two structural problems were found.
Key Learning Outcomes
For all built environment professionals:
It is important to recognise and know the boundaries of your expertise and work within the limits of your competence
Be aware that Health and Safety legislation places duties on individuals as well as companies to ensure that they do not put people at risk of harm
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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 has recently been asked to redesign several projects for domestic extensions/alterations, where the original design and drawings were produced by another organisation for structural beams, columns, and masonry piers/walls. According to the reporter, two problems were found. In one case the full lateral restraint for a structural member had been assumed where no restraint was present, so the member could have failed in buckling.
On another occasion, the design had specified double beams of different sizes to support the two leaves of a cavity wall but did not specify which leaf each beam was designed to support. The reporter believes that the designer is not competent to be carrying out such work and is concerned that building control did not spot any of the errors, especially as the original designer's specification of structural elements stated, 'beam and columns sizes to be confirmed with building control officer (BCO) prior to installation'.
Expert Panel Comments
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A designer has the responsibility to design his own work, not building control. It is simply not acceptable to make the statement that the BCO should confirm it. Building control bodies are under extreme pressure on fees, and are not on site all the time, so it is not a surprise that they miss things on occasion. A competent contractor would have queried any design that was not clear in its intent.
The report is another reminder that the issues of stability and support are poorly dealt with in domestic construction. There must be better competency in domestic design and in construction works. Failures are not usually on a catastrophic scale but can be costly, time consuming, have safety implications, and bring reputational risk.
Health and Safety legislation places duties on individuals as well as companies to ensure that they don’t put people at risk of harm. In the most serious of cases, and where a death results, this can amount to gross negligence manslaughter. There have been cases where, following collapse, designers have been prosecuted as individuals. Penalties can include prison sentences.
Health and Safety legislation places duties on individuals as well as companies to ensure that they don’t put people at risk of harm
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