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Last edited 09 Jun 2020
Investigating failures in building services
A study from the UCL(1) revealed that building failures may cost the UK construction industry £1bn to £2bn every year. This was a conservative estimate made in 2016, based on 1 to 2% of the total value of construction.
As of March 2020, the Office for National Statistics has estimated the total value of all UK construction works to be worth £12.7bn, 68% of which is for new buildings or the repair and maintenance of existing buildings. This would give an estimated cost of failure between £85m and £170m, of which building services would account for a high proportion.
 Types of failures in building services
Diagram courtesy of BSRIA; not for reuse.
The typical pattern of failure arising against time is shown by the well-known bathtub curve, which is divided into three segments or periods.
There are various reasons why every unexpected failure should be investigated. Below are some of the key ones:
- Insurance purposes. Insurers may require an independent evaluation of the failure and investigation of its possible cause to identify possible fraudulent or malicious intentions.
- Cost savings. Too often, failed components are replaced without investigating the root cause. Without understanding the origin of a failure, it is not possible to prevent its re-occurrence. Repetitive failure and replacement of components could add significantly to the operating cost for a building or estate.
- Health and safety. In May 2009, a lift at London’s Tower Bridge tourist attraction suffered a vital mechanism failure that sent it falling with nine people in it, four of whom suffered bone fractures. The malfunction was caused by the failure of a counterweight mechanism. The accident investigation by the HSE revealed that there had been several previous component failures with the counterweight mechanism, and the components had been replaced without proper review, and with no investigation into why they were failing so early. Tower Bridge was ordered to pay a total cost of £100k, and the HSE concluded that, had there been a proper review into the counterweight mechanisms, the catastrophic failure of the lift could have been avoided.
Read more about BSRIA’s Failure Investigation service here.
This article was originally published as The importance of investigating failures in building services on the BSRIA website on 20 May 2020. It was written by Martin Ronceray, BSRIA Engineering Investigation Lead.
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