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ARCHITECTS PROSECUTED OVER LACK OF INFORMATION

Information on flammability of timber frame not provided to contractor

Architect practice Mario Minchella Ltd has been fined for safety failings in the construction of a new timber frame care home in Hemlington, Teeside.

The practice failed to provide contractors with relevant information about the flammability of the timber frame used in the construction of the new building in October 2012.

Teesside Magistrates heard that a routine HSE inspection of the project found that the separation distance between the new timber frame building under construction and an adjacent occupied care home was insufficient.

If the timber frame caught fire there was a serious risk that the radiant heat would cause the fire to spread to the care home, putting the lives of residents and staff inside at risk.

HSE found nothing in the design specification to alert construction workers erecting the timber frame to the additional fire risk created and the need for action. The court was told that it would have been reasonable for Mario Minchella Ltd to have:

  • Specified – fire-resistant timber be used; or
  • Informed – contractor that a sequence of construction could be used so that each floor was clad before the next one was constructed thereby reducing the amount of timber exposed at any one time.

Regulation 11(3)(b) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, states: “Every designer shall in preparing or modifying a design which may be used in construction work in Great Britain avoid foreseeable risks to the health and safety of any person liable to be affected by such construction work.”

Regulation 11(6)(c) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, states: “The designer shall take all reasonable steps to provide with his design sufficient information about aspects of the design of the structure or its construction or maintenance as will adequately assist contractors to comply with their duties under these Regulations.”

Failed to consider risk provide sufficient information

Mario Minchella Ltd, of Swallow House, Parsons Road, Washington, Tyne and Wear, was fined a total of £1,500 after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The company was also ordered to pay £816 costs.

Speaking after the case, HSE inspector Andrea Robbins said:

“Timber frames will burn faster and more completely when the panels are incomplete and not yet protected by the usual internal fire-resistant plasterboard and external cladding.

When burning, exposed timber frame structures generate a lot of radiant heat and there have been a number of large and serious fires which have affected neighbouring properties with devastating consequences, though thankfully without loss of life.

There was a real danger here that had there been a fire it could have spread to the adjacent care home, putting the lives of the residents and staff inside at risk. Mario Minchella Ltd failed to consider this risk in its design and failed to provide sufficient information to the contractors to enable them to carry out the construction safely.

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