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CROSS Safety Report

Who takes responsibility for preventing a failure?

Report ID: 704 Published: 1 July 2018 Region: CROSS-UK

This report is over 2 years old

Please be aware that it might contain information that is no longer up to date. We keep all reports available for historic reference and as learning aids.


After reading the safety alert on Hazard identification for structural design, a reporter shares their views how various parties involved with structural safety sometimes see their responsibilities.

Key Learning Outcomes

For all built environment professionals:

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

    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

For policy makers:

  • CROSS has previously recommended that there should be a duty to inspect incumbent on the owners of safety critical assets such as steep cuttings above a public road

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.


After reading the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS) alert on Hazard identification for structural design, a reporter was prompted to write to CROSS about how various parties involved with structural safety sometimes see their responsibilities.

The reporter was consulted by a water company regarding a failed combined drainage system at the top of a cutting down to an old country road which has been reverted to a cycleway and footway. A circular slip had taken place causing displacement of the drainage line. This caused instability to a row of large concrete fence posts which were precariously leaning towards the footway, at the top of the slip.

Professional duty to avert the danger

The highway authority disputed ownership of the bank, declaring that it was the landowner’s responsibility. Unfortunately the landowner was not able to do anything due to financial constraints. The reporter managed to persuade the water company's lawyer that, knowing a hazard exists, they had a professional duty to avert the danger to public safety, even if they are not directly responsible. If they thought it was not their direct responsibility, they could always make a claim later.

Concerns over lack of responsibility

The water company eventually agreed to reinstate the slip in gabions and to repair the pipe. It took a long time to reach this stage and by the time the work had started, the concrete fence posts had already fallen down, but luckily no one was walking by.

The reporter is concerned about general awareness of the lack of responsibility and unprofessional attitudes taken by some public authorities based on cutbacks and hiding behind lack of funds.

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.

A not unusual situation with disputed ownership of assets and the reporter is right to point out that responsibilities must be accepted by public authorities in the public good. The reporter did well to get the situation resolved and the event could have been more serious had people been in the vicinity at the time of collapse.

The reason for the slip occurring is not known but had there been an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the initial focus would be on the landowner, since those that create a risk are best placed to control it. However, if there is a risk of serious personal injury and a lack of willingness from the highway authority to assist, then enforcement action could be taken against the highway authority to take steps to protect members of the public e.g. closing the footpath. CROSS has previously recommended that there should be a duty to inspect incumbent on the owners of such assets.

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