News

Basement Risks

A report by CROSS (Confidential Reporting on Structural Safety) has reported concerns regarding poor health and safety practice during retrofit basements.  They report:-

NEW BASEMENTS BENEATH EXISTING PROPERTIES

A reporter is concerned about the construction of some basement in London.  He has reviewed two projects covering basement works in relation to Building Regulation checks on the structural aspects.

The following characteristics were seen by the reporter:

  • they were probably two projects with the least percentage of costs spent on architectural and structural design that he has come across in three decades of practice,
  • there was a definite danger to the builder, based on the submitted designs,
  • they were very likely to cause major problems for the neighbours,
  • It was suspected that the works would be outside the competency of all parties, and this included the client and the Building Inspector.

After the reporter expressed concern he said that the projects were passed to another engineer.

The increase in major or complex basement constructions in London in particular is a concern as the implications do not always appear to be appreciated by those involved. Such projects may not be ‘building work’ but ‘construction projects’, with an attendant necessary increase in competency.

Indeed it has also been reported that in London basements under terraced houses are being constructed without any engineering input and no regard to the Party Wall Act, ground water movement, or the effect on neighbouring dwellings. Danger during construction is beyond the scope of  Building Control, but it is essential that this is considered during the process.  There are usually understandings  between Building Control and HSE such that once a project gets underway on site unsafe actions are referred to HSE.

The aim however should be intercept these projects prior to construction and perhaps this report reinforces the need for licensing certain types of work.  It is to be hoped that available guidance would be consulted or competent specialists brought in as required.  Competency of those in the chain of responsibility is very important and features in many reports to CROSS about failures.  “Simplifying design and construction” from the Basement Information Centre gives general advice and is soon to be updated.

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