Irwin Structures forensic engineers Melbourne


Key Points

Problems and conflicts involving protection works can be avoided if appropriate procedures are followed, works carried out and suitably confirmed. Applicants and respondents would benefit from guidance as to appropriate technical scope of protection works. Such guidance is not yet readily available in the industry.

The recent dramatic collapse of a building in inner Melbourne has highlighted concerns over protection works. While collapses from adjacent construction activity are uncommon, issues related to protection works may cause damage and escalate into unnecessary disputes.

The term "protection works" in the context of the Building Act means works required to protect one property from construction activity on an adjoining property.

Protection works are not merely the building works but include construction method, materials handling, temporary, and in some cases permanent support systems. Protection of the property, not merely the building is required, so works often include control and protection of excavations.

The Building Act invokes protection works at the discretion of the RBS when there is a risk of "significant damage" to an adjoining property. Significant damage is not defined but a common example of damage that may be accepted without protection works is minor ground breakout into a footing trench for domestic scale construction. "Adjoining" properties include any nearby, not merely those immediately adjacent.

Commonly construction on the boundary is a trigger for the requirement for protection works and a distance of 1m from the boundary is another rough guide but consideration should always be given to the nature of the works and structural issues. Larger scale construction, such as deep excavation can extend the requirement for protection works for a considerable distance.

The Building Act includes provisions for protection works the practical purpose of which is define, control, document and insure such works. Many BDPS readers will be familiar with the procedure that commences with exchange of form 3 and 4 documentation between the "Owner" (applicant) and "Adjoining Owner" (affected party) in an attempt to agree the scope of protection works.

If scope cannot be agreed between these parties it is resolved by the RBS or Building Appeals Board. The act contains detailed requirements and the Building Commission has a number of practice notes available. There are also requirements under the act for the owner to provide insurance of the protection works (this is beyond the scope of normal construction insurance). A dilapidation report must be carried out of the adjoining properly and agreed by both parties. Inspections of the protection works on behalf of the adjoining owner are allowed for under the act and there is a requirement for the owner to provide as built documentation of completed protection works to the adjoining owner.

If all the above is followed disputation and adverse events during construction are unlikely. This is a supremely sensible process prior to carrying out works that may affect another and to the benefit of both parties. Unfortunately matters do not always run as smoothly as they should, there are common themes to most of the conflicts that I see. A typical scenario is as follows:

Many applicants would benefit from some knowledge of what "protection works" are and should be: It is important to understand that they extend beyond the mere building specification to the process and method of construction and issues related to the construction activity. The definition is broad but here are some common issues:

While strictly protection works are only required to avoid "significant damage" when I am recommending protection works I usually extend this to any damage that can reasonably be controlled and any housekeeping or courtesy items, such as finishes of walls. Such matters cost little, make agreement more likely and smooth the wheels of neighbourly relations.

Standard practical guidance suggesting technical content of protection works is not readily available and would be of value to the industry. It would not be difficult to produce a guide covering common protection works. It would not be realistic to make such guidance comprehensive as there will always be issues requiring specific engineering and geotechnical input.