CROSS Safety Report
Major safety defects in hospital
This report is over 2 years old
A number of construction defects were found in a hospital following the inspection of the external wall system.
This is one of a legacy of defects that are being found during surveys prompted by the failures identified by the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Key Learning Outcomes
Demonstrably competent contractors should be appointed and retained through to completion to safely deliver the project in accordance with the design
Use quality and safety as key performance indicators
For design engineers:
When contracted to do so, attend site at key stages to inspect the works to ensure they are being built in accordance with the design
For the construction team:
Significant defects, related and unrelated to fire safety, are being found in buildings during inspections following Grenfell
For building owners and managers:
Planned inspections and maintenance is necessary to keep a building safe and identify any safety issues that may need to be addressed
Consider the findings and extent of any issues identified and assess if there is an increase in risk, including how those findings may affect other fire safety provisions
Serious deficiencies may need to be brought to the attention of the regulator and/or the fire and rescue service
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A reporter says that they are beginning to see defect discovery widening out from the inspection of external wall systems on projects prompted by the Grenfell Tower fire.
It is interesting to consider that there may be future financial pressure from insurers on designers and contractors to have a higher level of appreciation of the importance of construction details. This is due to the high cost of remedial work on construction defects that have been discovered, while inspecting fire protection measures on structures across the UK.
Defects in a hospital raise concerns
On one large new hospital, an initial survey was carried out to determine if there were any aspects of the cladding that were a fire risk, and this revealed that there could be other problems. Further investigations found issues concerned with the structure, the roof, fire safety and mechanical and electrical installations.
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Whether engineers or other designers should make site visits is key. It would be useful to clarify whether they have a duty to inspect or recommend independent inspection following a risk assessment or just where contracted to do so.
The report suggests that site visits should be made ‘where contracted to do so’. This is not quite correct. Site visits should be the subject of an assessment of risk at the design stage, and the client informed accordingly, if that assessment shows that site visits should be made. For too long designers have been reluctant to raise this issue as it adds cost.
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The contents of this report repeats those from several others that have been received since the Grenfell tragedy. The consequences from the event are widening as there is more recognition of the legacy of poor quality construction and the inherent safety risks.
Defects in new hospitals
Major projects procured by large publicly funded organisations such as NHS Trusts have proved sometimes to be challenging. There are reports in the public domain of defects in the construction of new-build hospitals including some in Liverpool, London, Glasgow, and Edinburgh.
A range of problems have been uncovered with safety and financial implications. The impact in terms of reputational damage, increased costs, time delays and effects on patients has yet to be determined in many cases, and the potential risk to occupants and firefighters must be recognised.
It is not just hospitals that are affected and, as has been said by Dame Judith Hackitt, there must be cultural changes throughout the industry. Of course, many projects are constructed safely with designers and contractors acting diligently and competently but there are those who, from lack of knowledge or deliberate acts, fall below the standards set in law and expected by the public.
The work of the Construction Industry Council (CIC), and others to improve competency will help as will the work of the Get it Right Initiative (GIRI). The CIC published a report entitled Setting the Bar in 2020. This report details industry wide proposals to raise awareness of safety critical competence requirements. The new Building Safety Bill will have a major impact down the line, and it is to be hoped that there is not another tragedy caused by poor design or construction practices.
The report highlights the need of all parties to consider not only the details of design, but how these are to be implemented in the final building. It is clear that there is a significant role to be played in inspecting works on site, and this should not be left to building control, who are not there to be a quality control check.
It is clear that there is a significant role to be played in inspecting works on site, and this should not be left to building control, who are not there to be a quality control check
There is certainly a beneficial role for designers to inspect that their design intentions have been met on site, and for independent third party inspections to ensure quality control.
It further demonstrates the need for involvement from the fire engineer across RIBA Plan of Work stages, particularly site inspections during the construction phase to confirm that the strategic elements of the fire safety design are being appropriately implemented.
It is important that those carrying out site inspections are competent to assess the area they are inspecting and fully understand the importance of what they are checking and its impact on safety.
Immediate actions on discovery of defects
It is imperative that findings from fire risk assessments for premises are reviewed by a competent person and acted upon, including any temporary mitigation. This is paramount in all premises and especially where there are vulnerable occupants whose safety in event of fire will be relying on structural fire safety and compartmentation to support the premises evacuation strategy.
As ever CROSS welcomes more reports of such matters so that lessons to be learned can be passed on to others.