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CROSS Safety Report

Poor quality of construction and lack of supervision on a block of flats

Report ID: 672 Published: 1 July 2017 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

Concerns are raised over poor quality construction and a lack of supervision on a residential block of flats.

During a site visit several critical structural elements were found to be installed incorrectly. This included a cantilever transfer beam supporting five storeys.

Key Learning Outcomes

For clients:

  • It is good practice to engage the design team to carry out sufficient inspections to check that observed quality is matched to design intent

  • There is always a risk that safety will be compromised when the lowest cost is the main criteria for selecting products, processes or people

For construction professionals:

  • Quality assurance and competent supervision on site can help to ensure that the structure is built in accordance with the design

  • Quality control procedures should ensure that workers are always working to the latest set of construction drawings

For civil and structural design engineers:

  • Consider attending site and inspecting the installation of critical structural elements

  • If you are unable to attend site, consider asking the contractor for site photos of the installation of critical structural elements

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The reporter is a consulting structural engineer working on a project in major UK city. The project involves new buildings for residential flats over a single storey basement. They attended site several times in the early stages of construction and found issues including:

  • Poor document control

  • The use of superseded drawings on site

  • Incorrect/failure to install temporary works required to prop the perimeter piled wall

  • Omission of design steel reinforcement

  • Undermining of adjacent structures

Their firm raised all these issues in site reports issued to the design team and client. In response, they were then told not to attend site by the client, and that supervision was to be provided by building control. However, another member of the firm recently attended site for a meeting and found that several critical structural elements - cantilever transfer beams supporting five storeys - had been built incorrectly.

another member of the firm recently attended site for a meeting and found that several critical structural elements - cantilever transfer beams supporting five storeys - had been built incorrectly

The beam was stopping short of the column it was meant to be supporting, leaving load from five storeys to be supported on the edge of a 250mm thick slab. The concern is that the contractor is of a poor standard, is being pushed by the client, and there is inadequate supervision. If this error had not been picked up by chance the results could have been catastrophic.

Expert Panel Comments

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This is part of the disturbing pattern we are getting and which has been crystallised in the Edinburgh Schools Inquiry, and is another example of inadequate supervision with the potential for disaster. The situation is made worse by client actions that are apparently contrary to the CDM Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015).

Where was the principal designer, where was the temporary works coordinator and who was providing the client with advice on their obligations under the CDM regulations? Where was the adequate supervision of the works on site?

Short cuts can lead to death and injury. It is unlikely that a building control inspection will detect the type of concern raised by the reporter so reliance cannot be placed on them for assurance of routine quality.

That is not their job. CROSS has repeatedly warned that construction safety is not achieved by adequate design alone and there is plenty of evidence that clients are cutting corners by not engaging designers to verify that what they have designed is actually constructed.  Best practice is for clients to engage design teams to carry out sufficient inspections to check that observed quality is matched to design intent.

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