A building firm in the Midlands has been fined after it dug a trench that caused the partial collapse of a house next door reports the HSE, the building company had been employed to build an extension at a property and the firm’s owner dug a foundation trench to the left of the house but far too close to, and the same depth as, the foundations of the neighbouring semi-detached house. This work falls within section 6 of the Party Wall etc Act which covers adjacent excavation and specifically applies when excavations are dug within 3m of next door. From the photograph provided by the HSE and reproduced here the works do not look particularly complicated but it is a salutary lesson that even the simplest of works can have dramatic unintended effects if executed badly.
A party wall award would have been negotiated by the party wall surveyors. The surveyor s would have reviewed the scheme and may well have included within their award method statements and temporary works details that would have mitigated the risk of the collapse occurring.
The night after the trench was dug, part of the neighbours house including an upstairs bedroom and the integral garage collapsed – around a third to a half of the property had to be demolished. The HSE investigation found that there had been a failure to notify the owner of the next door property of the intention to dig the trench, or how it would be done, as required under Party Wall Notification laws. Although the HSE found that the contractor was at fault the responsibility for notice rest with the building owner and he, of course, would have ultimate liability for repairing next doors house.
The neighbour had already appointed a party wall consultant regarding the works but no party wall award or agreement had been entered into.
HSE inspector Gareth Langston said:
“This was a serious incident that could have easily been prevented had the contractor followed the recognised procedure relating to party walls and detailed the work to the neighbour’s consultant. The consultant would have realised the implications and stopped him. Even so, the contractor was an experienced builder and should have known better in the first place.
“The trench should have been dug in metre-long sections, pouring in concrete and waiting until it had set before digging the next section. This would have underpinned and supported the wall of the neighbouring house.
As experienced party wall practitioners we can offer advice if you are intending carrying out works and need to resolve Party Wall matters with your neighbour, alternately if you have received a notice or are concerned about your neighbours proposed works we can assist in protecting your position.
Image – HSE