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CROSS Safety Report

Public art structures - further discussions

Report ID: 157 Published: 1 October 2009 Region: CROSS-UK

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A reporter has written to CROSS concerning the issue of Public Art (report 136), having had a lot of interaction with a council when I was Head of Building Control.

Key Learning Outcomes

For planning authorities:

  • Prior to a ‘Public Art’ project proceeding too far, consider carrying out a complete risk assessment, covering not only hard technical matters but softer issues such as public reaction to an unusual object

  • Where the design is non-standard, the maintaining organisation should understand how to do its work and procure any necessary spare parts. In this respect, an up to date and accurate Health & Safety File can greatly assist

Full Report

Find out more about the Full Report

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.


I felt (says a reporter) that I had to write concerning the issue of Public Art (report 136), having had a lot of interaction with a council when I was Head of Building Control. Operating under appropriate legislation worked well with responsible people in major organisations. The biggest problem was the council itself and especially the community involved departments, who felt that their issues came above all else including structural safety.

I took this to the Legal Department who in fact stated that all parts of the council should comply with the legislation, but it would not be possible to take legal action against any part of the council in default. So, some departments complied, but a lot of others did not, because they said that they did not have the funding to comply with these requirements.  

In general, the control of these structures, whether temporary staging, gantries etc for an event or the public art type was very poor. On some occasions I actually dismantled some structures, because they were too dangerous to leave standing. In the past, such matters would be the responsibility of the Borough Engineer, but in today’s world of ‘outsourcing’ this is an expense too far.

Expert Panel Comments

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Expert Panels comment on the reports we receive. They use their experience to help you understand what can be learned from the reports. If you would like to know more, please visit the CROSS-UK Expert Panels page.

Although a public body cannot serve a legal notice on itself the duty for safety remains with the authority or public body. Others in a similar situation have advised that a carefully worded letter to the director responsible for commissioning the work with a reminder regarding the director’s personal duty tends to have the desired effect.

The Highway Authority and Building Control both have responsibilities and appropriate powers to deal with such issues and sometimes the licence for an event is the means of exercising control. Those who might be involved should read the reports on the ‘Dreamspace’ prosecution (Safety and Health Practitioner July 2009 and the correspondence September 2009 p19) and note their corporate and individual responsibilities. By allowing such situations to occur senior managers in particular are putting themselves at risk of prosecution.

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