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CROSS Safety Report

Wall collapse from building in city centre - who is responsible?

Report ID: 306 Published: 1 January 2013 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

A 4-4.5m high wall, approximately 18m long, and nearly 40t of bricks collapsed into a road crushing three empty vehicles.

Key Learning Outcomes

For building owners and managers:

  • Under CDM there are responsibilities during demolition to ensure stability at all times

  • Ultimately the responsibility remains with the owner and it is up to them to employ suitably qualified persons to design or supervise a demolition contract

For all built environment professionals:

  • If you are aware of a live or urgent safety issue:

    1. Your first step should be to raise this with the organisations concerned if possible

    2. If applicable, you should speak to your line manager

    3. If this does not resolve the issue, or if the response you receive is inadequate, then you should inform the appropriate regulator

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A consulting engineer was asked to attend a site by the local council because the roof of a privately owned factory building was in a dangerous condition. The Council had told the owner that this needed repair as the tenant in the building was at risk. At the time the owner did not want to employ the reporter’s firm and the reporter assumed that he went elsewhere.

Sometime afterwards the firm was again called out at the request of the police as a wall had collapsed. It was by luck that no one was injured as the wall was 4-4.5m high, approximately 18m long, and nearly 40t of bricks collapsed into a road crushing three empty vehicles. It transpired that the owner had intended to re-develop the site and as a preliminary measure the roof of the building had been taken off thereby removing lateral restraint to the wall.

The owner of the building said that he had been told that there were piers in this wall which would provide stability. It was easily proved by calculation that this would not be the case. The reporter asks who should be responsible.

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.

CROSS has published many reports of wall collapses and it is clear that many in the construction industry (and owners) fail to grasp the potential risks of collapse and the consequences that can follow: deaths and serious injuries.

Under CDM there are responsibilities during demolition to ensure stability at all times. Ultimately the responsibility remains with the owner and it is up to them to employ suitably qualified persons to design or supervise a demolition contract. It is unclear from the report what the role of the local authority was in this case although it appears that the initial call out might have been as a result of a reported dangerous structure.

Local authorities in England and Wales have powers under the Building Act 1984 (or London Building Acts (amendment) Act 1939, in the case of London) in relation to dangerous structures. These powers include requiring structures to be shored up, repaired or removed and where the owner is unable or willing to do this, to carry out the works themselves.

It is possible that the structure was assessed as not being imminently dangerous, and the owner took the option to demolish the building. If this was under a demolition contract, then it would come within the Health and Safety Executives remit. Had the three vehicles that were crushed been occupied the outcome would have been very different – there cannot be too many warnings about the risks associated with unstable walls.

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