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What causes construction failures?

NCE has this week pledged its support for a major new Health & Safety Executive (HSE)-backed study into the causes and consequences of major failures and collapses in construction.

The work has been prompted by growing concerns over the frequency of building, tunnel and scaff old collapses during construction and the failure of plant such as tower cranes and piling rigs.

Industry research body CIRIA has been commissioned to carry out the seven month project and it will draw on the first hand professional experience of past incidents to produce guidance to help the industry avoid problems in the future.

“The HSE is very pleased to be sponsoring this extensive research project into an important topic,” said HSE chief inspector of construction Philip White.

“Construction is often described as a high risk industry because of the high incidence rates of accidents and ill-health.

“Anyone in construction should complete the questionnaire to help us to understand more about construction failures.”

Alan Gilbertson

“However, it is also an industry that is can create significant on and off site hazards to workers and the public,” he added. “It is important the industry understands the nature of these top events and puts in place effective measures to prevent them.”

Although major failures and collapses may be considered as “low probability”, concern has been raised as the consequences of their occurrence are potentially catastrophic. This might range from fatalities and serious injury to major disruption to infrastructure services and loss of professional reputation.

NCE has been dedicated to consistently and accurately reporting on construction failures since it was launched in 1972 and is proud to continue this tradition today and to help to promote and publicise this HSE study.

How to get involved:

■ Explore the NCE website for stories about significant construction collapses and failures, details of the research project and links to the CIRIA major hazards survey
■ Once you have completed the online survey, CIRIA will keep you informed of the progress of the project
■ For further information about the project email


Coverage of accidents such as Pakistan’s 1974 Tarbela Dam tunnel collapses, the Carsington failure in 1984, the Ramsgate walkway failure and Heathrow Express collapse in 1994, the Gerrards Cross tunnel collapse in 2005 and most recently the problems at Glendoe power station, have helped the industry to quickly understand the consequences of failure and how to avoid them in future.

Working in partnership with Loughborough University, CIRIA intends to look forensically at past problems to develop valuable new guidance on current regulations and standards, improving risk management and improving duty-holder awareness of risks and precautions.

“Getting the first hand experience from professionals will help us to understand where the focus of our research should be.”

Alan Gilbertson

But according to CIRIA project manager Alan Gilbertson, it is vital that the project also draws on the real experiences of construction professionals. A special online survey has been developed to help understand the real pressures facing designers, contractors and project managers.

“Getting the first hand experience from professionals will help us to understand where the focus of our research should be,” said Gilbertson. “Anyone involved in construction and building industry should complete the questionnaire to help us to understand more about the causes of construction failures.”

CIRIA will also use the research to build up case studies of good and poor practice which it hopes the industry will learn from. NCE will be publishing these case studies and other feedback from the project in a bid to raise awareness of the issue.

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