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CROSS Safety Report

Responsibilities of local authorities for possibly dangerous structures

Report ID: 348 Published: 1 January 2014 Region: CROSS-UK

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A reporter, who used to be involved with building control, believes that local authorities have a duty to decide if a danger exists when a member of the public draws their attention to a potentially dangerous situation.

Key Learning Outcomes

For all built environment professionals:

  • If you notice a potential safety issue not during the course of your work, consider reporting it to the owner or tenant

  • If the owner is not known, then the appropriate regulator could be informed

  • Local authorities also have powers to take action if there is a potential imminent risk to the public

Full Report

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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.


A reporter, who used to be involved with building control, believes that local authorities have a duty to decide if a danger exists when a member of the public draws their attention to a potentially dangerous situation. The public should not be expected to be experts in assessing if a structure is dangerous or deciding what should be done, however the reporter is unsure to what extent local authorities have legal powers/duties to address any danger.

For example, do such powers/duties extend to free standing or retaining walls? The reporter also recalls a situation when a very experienced chartered structural engineer who observed the construction of the frame of a building and was convinced, together with some fellow engineers, that it was unsatisfactory. They contacted building control and they were told that the project had been checked by an approved inspector so the local authority was satisfied that all was OK.

This did not satisfy the concerned engineer but what else could they do? The reporter acknowledges that this is a complex subject but wants more informative guidance to be made in, say, The Structural Engineer. (2) 23 January 2007 – Questioning the responsibilities of an engineer, Dr Bill Harvey (F) What do you do as an engineer when you see dangerous example of poor construction, around you? Views on the above will be welcomed.

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Local authorities have a duty in relation to dangerous structures (either under the Building Act 1984 or London Building Acts (Amendment) Act 1939). This applies to ‘a building or structure, or part of building or structure’ and so retaining walls and the like should also be covered. Sometimes these structures are also covered by other legislation, such as that for highways or railways.

Dangerous structures legislation does not apply to the control of building work, unless the work is imminently dangerous and affects the general public, such as being over a public highway. Whether a building is unsatisfactory or not is a matter for the building control body and in this instance the approved inspector was responsible.

Dangerous conditions wholly within the construction site are controlled by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and the reporter could have referred the matter to them. Papers on the subject have been published in The Structural Engineer:

  • Questioning the responsibilities of an engineer, Bill Harvey, January 2007

  • Dangerous structures and buildings, Martin Ashmead, March 2009.

 A related question is whether a chartered engineer has an obligation or duty to act if he/she sees something that is, in their opinion, manifestly unsafe? The answer will depend upon legal circumstances, Institution codes of conduct, and ethical considerations. Views on this too will be welcome.

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