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Newsletter No 49 - January 2018

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Report Overview

The Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety by Dame Judith Hackitt in December 2017 focuses on the future by learning from the past. She said that the whole system of regulation is not fit for purpose leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so. Strong words which will resonate with CROSS readers because, for 12 years, we have gathered reports about safety concerns and events in construction demonstrating the dire condition of parts of our industry. Dame Judith collected evidence from 250 sources and we were amongst them with information obtained from responses to a recent survey of The Institution of Structural Engineers’ Members and Fellows, from reports sent to CROSS, from SCOSS Biennial Reports over many years, and from the views of the SCOSS Committee and the CROSS Panel. We said that the quality of design submissions being made to Building Control Departments has declined, that there is a lack of coordination of design which stems from fragmentation of design responsibilities, and that the culture and capability of checking site work in progress has been hugely diminished. We said that there appears to be a particular lack of competence in assuring ‘Fire Safety’ and this partly stems from poor training whereby fire safety skills have hereto not been a major part of engineering training. Other factors are that responsibility for fire safety is frequently diluted by dispersion of tasks along the supply chain. We recommended that high-risk buildings should require a documented report justifying their overall fire safety as part of the Building Regulation submission and that the competency of those charged with managing fire safety throughout the life of a building needs to be addressed. We said that both designers and contractors, including major sub-contractors, should be better regulated to improve the quality of construction. Such concerns and similar views from many others, all led to Dame Judith to state that she intends to create a better system for the future which will be easier to work with, deliver better solutions, and rebuild confidence. In the January 2017 Newsletter, when commenting on Report 612 Number of near misses and the regulatory regime, the CROSS panel commented: “There is certainly the possibility of another mega failure that will serve as a wake-up call. But that will be too late for those involved.” This was written about structural collapse rather than fire but the underlying causes are generic and the Grenfell Tower fire is a tragic example. CROSS can help with the rebuilding process by getting more evidence from reporters and using this to emphasise the cultural changes that are needed to protect the public and to repair the reputation of parts of our industry.

Overview of Reports in this Newsletter

706 General fire safety in residential blocks

A reporter discusses fire safety issues discovered during investigations of building defects in residential blocks.

707 Fire safety in high rise residential blocks - service ducts

A reporter says that the risk of spread of smoke, hot gases and flames due to deficiencies in service ducts is an important subject that needs detailed investigation.

713 The role of District Surveyors

Under the London Building Acts 1930, says a reporter, District Surveyors were appointed to supervise construction and enforce regulations. It seems to the reporter that a similar system is now required.

694 Dangerous balcony construction

During an investigation of a balcony construction, a reporter discovered serious inadequacies related to total lack of co-ordination between sub-contract work packages coupled with lack of appropriate supervision.

693 Stability of existing structures impacting construction sites

A reporter discusses the Client’s and Principal Contractor’s duties regarding the stability of existing structures on site, particularly those scheduled for demolition.

690 Concern about foundations to telecomms masts

Whilst recognising the attractiveness and value that is offered to the industry a reporter writes about a potential safety problem with the design and construction of "root" foundations for telecomms poles.

635 Incomplete casting of composite brick/concrete parapets

A reporter states that during a parapet raising scheme over a mainline railway, a void up to 300mm deep was identified below existing coping bed level.

703 Inadequate structural design for domestic properties

A reporter has recently been asked to re-design several projects for domestic extensions/alterations, where two structural problems were found.

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