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CROSS Safety Report

Who should submit designs to comply with Approved Document Part A of the Building Regulations

Report ID: 1208 Published: 17 May 2024 Region: CROSS-UK


Overview

A reporter received a set of plans for a domestic modification and found that, despite being developed by the architect alone, they contained specific structural information such as steel member sizes and connection details. The structural layout was questionable and fell outside of the parameters set out in Approved Document A (ADA) of the Building Regulations.

Key Learning Outcomes

For clients:

  • Seek assurance from advisers that their professional indemnity insurance covers them for the work they are to undertake

For designers:

  • Limit your engagement to a scope that you are suitably qualified and experienced for. Recommend the engagement of others for work outside of your expertise

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A reporter received a set of plans for a domestic modification and found that, despite being developed by the architect alone, they contained specific structural information such as steel member sizes and connection details. The structural layout was questionable and fell outside of the parameters set out in Approved Document A (ADA) of the Building Regulations.

The reporter believes the architect provided a design beyond the limits of their knowledge, and that this led to lateral stability concerns at the rear of the property due to the removal of masonry buttresses with no sufficient structural substitute. 

The reporter feels that Approved Document A tends to allow inexperienced designers to "have a go" at design by tables, and non engineers do not understand the importance of the rules or what needs to be done if the structure falls outside of the remit of the Document.   

The consequence may be a property that has been signed off by building control, but which is structurally unsafe and does not conform to either Approved Document A or to Eurocodes. This could leave a homeowner with a potentially large bill to rectify any structural damage due to excessive movement or failure. The reporter cannot imagine that an architect's PI insurance would cover incorrect structural design, and neither would the homeowner's property insurance.

In the reporter’s view, regulation for designs falling outside the recommendations within Approved Document A should be changed

The underlying cause, continues the reporter, seems to be that structural design can be undertaken by someone with limited or no experience and (providing building control sign this off) their designs will be accepted. 

In the reporter’s view, regulation for designs falling outside the recommendations within Approved Document A should be changed so that such designs can only be legally undertaken by a professionally qualified engineer. Alternatively, at the very least, there should be a legal requirement to have designs signed off/approved by a professionally qualified engineer.

Expert Panel Comments

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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.

The structural design on any project needs to be carried out by a suitably qualified and experienced person. In most cases, this will not be an architect. 

That said, on small domestic projects it is often the case that the architect will add the structural information to their drawings so that the builder only has one set of drawings to refer to and can be properly coordinated. This does not mean however, that the architect is taking responsibility for the structural design, as there will be a separate structural design for submission to building control. In the situation the reporter describes, this does not appear to be the case.

CROSS has received many reports about concerns of structural designs being prepared by unqualified and inexperienced parties

The professional engineering Institutions, the Institution of Structural Engineers and some members have been battling this issue of unqualified persons preparing and (potentially) submitting structural design information for many years. 

In the past, there has been no appetite at all from the government for professional registration of engineers. Yet, CROSS has received many reports about concerns of structural designs being prepared by unqualified and inexperienced parties. It is also generally accepted that there is little point in relying on building control to check and verify innumerable smaller projects. This leaves many clients vulnerable.

Normally, professional indemnity insurance (PII) should limit what a professional does. To proceed uninsured would be a lapse of professional conduct. Clients should check the PII cover of their advisors, but domestic clients are unlikely to be aware of this.

The Building Safety Act 2022 requires that structural compliance must be demonstrated on all buildings, not just high rise buildings as is commonly misunderstood

Under the Building Safety Act 2022, for all buildings the principal designer (PD) is required to take all reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the Building Regulations - Approved Document A in this case. The lead designer on domestic projects (most commonly an architect or architectural designer) is the PD.

The Building Safety Act 2022 requires that structural compliance must be demonstrated on all buildings, not just high rise buildings as is commonly misunderstood.

The situation in Scotland differs from other parts of UK. It has long been the practice in Scotland that structural modifications and indeed the whole structure need a Chartered Engineer to sign them off. This includes even very modest schemes. This practice is now formalised under the Structural Engineers Registration (SER) Scheme.

CROSS has previously reported concerns regarding the availability of software and spreadsheets where inexperienced people can 'plug the numbers in' to get member sizes and other similar details.

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