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CROSS Safety Report

Padstones out of position leads to collapse

Report ID: 602 Published: 1 April 2017 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

This report concerns the partial collapse of a terrace of four storey houses during construction due to padstones being placed incorrectly.

Key Learning Outcomes

For construction professionals:

  • Acting on concerns and instructions are important to ensure work activities are carried out safely

  • It is good practice to carry out a risk assessment and method statement (RAMS) for all construction activities to ensure they are constructed in accordance with the design intent

  • Quality control and competent supervision on site can help to ensure that the structure is built in accordance with the construction drawings

Full Report

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This report concerns the partial collapse of a terrace of four storey houses during construction. The main contractor employed a firm of consulting engineers known to the reporter to finalise and detail an outline scheme design by others. The roof was timber and steelwork. The superstructure’s precast concrete floors were supported on front and rear façade walls and internal steel beams. The internal steel beams were supported on dense concrete padstones on the compartment walls and on the inner leaf of the end walls which were of aerated concrete blockwork.

At a late stage in construction, it was found that the masonry subcontractor had positioned the padstones so as to maintain the blockwork bond irrespective of the positions of the steel beams. Consequently, several beams had bearing close to the ends of the padstones. Instructions were given to rebuild the work so that the beams would be central on the padstones.

At a late stage in construction, it was found that the masonry subcontractor had positioned the padstones so as to maintain the blockwork bond irrespective of the positions of the steel beams

Some days later one of the end walls collapsed together with the supported bay of roof and floors. Fortunately, there were no casualties although the start of the collapse was witnessed as the face of the aircrete blocks peeled off beneath the padstones allowing the steel beams to fall. Subsequent investigation found that the remedial work had not been carried out and there was evidence of covering up with a plaster skim coat.

It seems that some contractors cannot be trusted to follow traditional good practice in positioning padstones, and it seems now necessary to give explicit instructions on drawings. Sadly, other consulting engineers were only too willing to be employed by the main contractor to snag other unrelated aspects of the design resulting in a sharing of costs by the designer’s insurer despite the incident being caused by others.

Expert Panel Comments

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The main feature here is that the padstone bearings were eccentric. It is surprising how quickly a small increase in eccentricity of loading can reduce the capacity of a wall panel. A combination of adverse tolerances, positional eccentricities and, in some cases, a lack of appropriate torsional restraint (with fixings if needed) will soon lead to a heavily reduced margin of safety.

The contractor’s desire to maintain bond rather than correctly locate padstones demonstrates the importance of adequate site supervision and inspection prior to covering up. To hide the ends of loadbearing padstones in order to disguise the inadequacy of their construction is extremely poor practice.

The contractor’s desire to maintain bond rather than correctly locate padstones demonstrates the importance of adequate site supervision and inspection prior to covering up

Shades of the Edinburgh schools’ (Inquiry into the construction of Edinburgh Schools - February 2017), problems and the need for industry wide action. The report is also reminiscent of a number of investigations carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on this type of project where poor workmanship and poor supervision has resulted in collapse and ultimately in prosecution.

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