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.
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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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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'.
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This is the classic example where it should be a legal requirement to have a chartered engineer carry out structural design. Can the Institution comment as to why this is not yet the case?
Making it a legal requirement for a chartered engineer to be responsible for structural design may well improve the quality of design, but the Institution do not set the law and can only advise those who do.
I look forward to reading the CROSS newsletter, as they give an interesting and thought-provoking insight into the industry. However, on this occasion, I was concerned to read the following:
“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.”
It is simply not acceptable to use this as an excuse for missing an issue. If a commercial organisation tried to use lack of fees as an excuse in this manner CROSS would have no issues pointing out why this is wrong. It is of note that if you search for fees on the portal you find the following from ID 190 makes this exact point “However, strictly it is not fees per se which determine the legal position but if a professional takes on a job for nothing he or she carries all the responsibilities regardless. The formal position is clear. The Client must ensure that he or she appoints competent parties, adequately resourced. The engaged party has a reciprocal responsibility and the CDM-C also plays an important role in this instance. Those appointing professionals so far below typical market rates should ensure that they have suitable qualifications and insurances.”
In short if you accept the job you accept the responsibility.
At the start of my career I worked in a consultancy that undertook design reviews for building control and the fees were indeed tiny. This didn’t stop a full and thorough review being undertaken, and nor should it.
I look forward to your response.
Thanks for your observations on what is very much a topic of current interest. You may have seen it already but the following report by Dame Judith Hackitt contains a number of comments about Building Control and their role.
Building a Safer Future - Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety
Building Control do not have responsibility for quality control and generally do an excellent job given their limited resources and funding. As a consequence of the Hackitt report however there will be searching questions and probably recommendations for change.
From the description of the problem, it sounds as if there could be a breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 in terms of competency of the Designer. In which case perhaps this should be reported to the HSE for investigation.
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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