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Why the expansion of the CROSS confidential reporting scheme into fire safety matters to all civil engineers

06 April 2021

Civil engineers’ first duty of care is to ensure their work is safe. ICE Director of Engineering Knowledge Mark Hansford discusses CROSS’s expansion into fire safety and the crucial role it plays in continuous learning.

Why the expansion of the CROSS confidential reporting scheme into fire safety matters to all civil engineers
he expansion of CROSS into fire safety is a consequence of the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster and Dame Judith Hackitt’s subsequent review of building regulations and fire safety. Image credit: Shutterstock

As civil engineers, we have a responsibility to society to build, operate and maintain structures and assets that are fit for purpose, reliable and safe. A core remit of ICE is to help civil engineering professionals to do that. One of the main ways is through our long-standing collaboration with the Institution of Structural Engineers to run the CROSS confidential reporting system.

CROSS-UK (Collaborative Working for Safer Structures UK) was set up following a campaign led by New Civil Engineer in association with ICE. This followed a 1998 New Civil Engineer readership survey that showed overwhelming support for an anonymised reporting system similar to the long-established CHIRP scheme covering the UK aviation industry.

To date, CROSS has received more than 1,000 safety reports on topics ranging from issues with domestic buildings to major structural collapses. Each report contains information that the industry can learn from to make structures safer. The CROSS team enables this by taking these reports and, along with other information available in the public domain, shaping them into valuable, effective guidance with key learning outcomes for all civil engineering professionals.

Frankly, all of those working in the industry should already make engaging with CROSS a regular and dedicated activity – both to continuously improve their practice and to reassure stakeholders and the public of their commitment to safety.

Still, now the call is even stronger. We are pleased to be able to widen the remit of CROSS into the crucial area of fire safety through a new collaboration with the Institution of Fire Engineers. It is important. This move is a direct consequence of the dreadful Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 and Dame Judith Hackitt’s subsequent hard-hitting independent review of building regulations and fire safety.

A key recommendation from Hackitt’s review was that “the current CROSS scheme should be extended and strengthened to cover all engineering safety concerns” – the expansion of CROSS’s remit into fire safety is a crucial step towards this.

It has been made possible by funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government as part of its aim to deliver the recommendations made in Hackitt’s review.

A new expert panel for fire safety has been established to consider reports received. The website has been completely overhauled to make reporting more straightforward. It offers an easily searchable library of past reports, plus fire and structural safety information to help individuals and organisations to learn more about the safety implications of their work.

It is a vital step forward and ICE will be working to extract the main findings from the new-look CROSS and bring them to members in an engaging and useful way.

Monthly digitally-delivered briefings will be the focal point for this as part of our renewed commitment to making learning from failures and near misses an important part of the continuous learning cycle. It underpins an engineer’s competency and is crucial to ICE as a learning society.

Already, the expanded CROSS has been able to shed light on a growing trend in the industry regarding fire safety of buildings comprised of cross-laminated timber structures.

The concern particularly relates to multi-storey sleeping risk buildings in the UK, where the design intent typically is to achieve 60 minutes’ fire resistance for structural load-bearing elements based on tables in Approved Document B (Part B). But compliance with this guidance does not automatically confer compliance with building regulations.

CROSS highlights that designers have to take responsibility for their designs, which means understanding the limitations of codes, particularly when using innovative construction materials.

This is just one example – over the coming months and years, CROSS wants to produce many more. It can only do this with our members’ help. Do explore the new website and, crucially, take the time to get comfortable with it so that when something occurs that you feel should be reported, you will feel safe and comfortable in doing so.

All of the more than 1,000 reports so far submitted to CROSS have been treated with complete confidence. The subsequent analysis has fed into many CROSS safety alerts that have been disseminated to give engineers a vital heads-up, hopefully averting repeat incidents that might have led to tragedies. So please do get involved.

Explore the new CROSS website

Find out more about how CROSS UK are helping professionals make structures safer and what safety information they are publishing based on reports they receive from the public domain.

  • Mark Hansford, director of engineering knowledge at Institution of Civil Engineers