CROSS Safety Report
Inadequate temporary works on domestic project
An example of inadequate temporary works on a project, and problems reporting the safety issue to the authorities.
Key Learning Outcomes
For builders and contractors:
- Propping work is important and has to be done safely by competent people
- Collapses can cause fatalities
- Be particularly careful when part of a floor or wall is cantilevering
- When temporary works are outside of your normal experience ask a chartered structural engineer for advice
- With the current trend for adding extensions to the rear of houses, this type of building work is likely to be relatively common
Reporting to regulators:
- HSE have a central team who review all calls about concerns and pass these on to local inspectors
- The lack of Building Inspectors and lack of resources to visit sites and raise standards is very worrying
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An example of inadequate temporary works on a domestic construction project was spotted by a reporter on a very windy day in a major UK city. They say that the external wall and the entire corner of a house was propped by a brick on end at first floor level to one side of an opening that was being made in an external wall. A prop could be seen to be supporting the timber floor inside the house, but the bulk of the load would have been from the external wall and the arrangement looked extremely fragile and potentially dangerous. Had the brick crushed the corner of the house would have become a cantilever. No builders were in sight, and it had been like this for at least 24 hours, says the reporter.
The reporter was concerned that the external wall could collapse. They reported the issue to the local council, but since it was temporary works, the council said the matter should be referred to HSE under CDM 2015. However, the council did make their building inspector aware of the issue. The reporter then tried to contact the HSE, but their online reporting system malfunctioned.
In the reporter's view the industry needs dedicated access to the HSE for issues like this and wonders if more resources could be made available. They suggest that a Twitter account could be set up to directly message the HSE with concerns.
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Contacting HSE in a hurry is still very problematic and time consuming, on several occasions on the last (too many) decades I have needed to report some serious activities and all too often been blocked by Customer service systems or web page reporting. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. Unfortunately the unsafe practice continues. I agree that the industry needs dedicated access to the HSE for serious active issues.
Useful advice has been published by the Construction Information and Research Association (CIRIA):
Structural stability during refurbishment (C740F).
Specifically, the Toolbox talk, Technical guidance 11, Refurbishment – How to use props and needling correctly.
This can be downloaded free of charge at https://www.ciria.org/ItemDetail?iProductCode=C740F&Category=FREEPUBS
Errata slip (Dated 1st July 2020)
This can be downloaded free of charge at https://www.ciria.org/Resources/Free_publications/Errata/Structural_sta…
Expert Panel Comments
An Expert Panel 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-US Expert Panel page.
This is a bad example of poor workmanship with apparently, no thought been given to the temporary works. It can be surmised that there are no qualified engineers involved, so the challenge is one of educating builders in the process of ' good building practice’. Anecdotally, the dearth of Building Inspectors and lack of resources to visit sites and raise standards is very worrying.
Regulation lacking on domestic projects
The matter of control for dangerous structures depends on whether it is dangerous building work and only dangerous to the contractors (HSE), or is dangerous to the public or occupants (Local Authority). If the latter, then Local Authorities need to consider whether there is imminent danger. If this was an unoccupied site, hoarded from the public and any potential collapse would remain within the site, they could not act. This type of situation is sadly not uncommon with renovation and remedial work on residential properties, as this sector is probably the least regulated.
Renovation trends causing issues
With the current trend for adding single-storey extensions to the rear of houses and the popularity of full-width bifold doors to 'open up the house', this type of building works is likely to be relatively common. Useful advice is contained in Part 10 of the IStructE / TWf Temporary Works Toolkit 'Propping and needling', which is free to download.
The Temporary Works Forum is a good source and should be consulted for advice on such matters.
Finally, the fact that the reporter was not able to find anyone to report this to is worrying. HSE say that calls are dealt with by a central team who review all notifications and pass on matters of evident concern, such as this, to the local inspectors who will investigate. Hopefully, this was therefore a transient situation when no contact could be made in this case.
All contractors should ensure that temporary conditions are properly engineered.