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Avoid disappointment and potential disaster with competent design, installation and supervision

Disappointment with the outcome of construction projects, including segmental block retaining walls may manifest itself in two ways.

Aesthetics: unattractive sloppy finish or sub-standard material utilized.

Structural; poor design, insufficient supervision, non-compliance, quality control, and maintenance.

It stands to reason that in communities where, due to circumstances, aesthetic values are not highly regarded, the demand for quality outcomes is not a priority. The emergence of free-loading material suppliers and unscrupulous contractors is thus encouraged and the downhill trend is set in motion. 

In this scenario, the question of ethical values among individuals and corporate entities comes to play. Dr. John C. Maxwell, well known author of numerous business books maintains that corporate ethical values are reflected in values of their CEO’s. However, ethical values, like moral values are not universally normative, i.e. cannot be regulated without risking abuse of such laws. That means that other, self-regulating mechanisms must be employed.

At the Civulation Congress in 2014, Adv. Thuli Madonsela addressed the infrastructure engineering industry on the subject of corruption and ethics, highlighting 7 points in the SAICE Code of Ethics. (S.A. Institution of Civil Engineering)

  1. Act with integrity and fairness.
  2. Have regard for those that are affected by your professional activities.
  3. Maintain and broaden competence and assist others to do so.
  4. Exercise appropriate skill and judgement.
  5. Avoid conflict of interest.
  6. Treat people with dignity.
  7. Don’t misrepresent your level of competence.
No drainage, no supervision, no reinforced concrete infill as specified.

When applied as intended, these guidelines will have an uplifting effect on dealings in general. However, as Groucho Marx cynically put it in one of his shows, “if you can fake it, you’ve got it made”, the fake-brigade is often hiding in the background. 

An experienced academic and environmentalist, Saliem Fakir, mentioned two kinds of entrepreneurs in a 2017 article:

“The productive entrepreneur who relies on innovation, skills and acumen to generate profits.” 


“The political entrepreneur who relies on political connections to gain preferential access to government allocation of resources.”

To the selection one might add the opportunistic entrepreneur who relies on copying products, skills, and acumen to generate profits.

So, if ethical values and behavior are difficult to regulate with legislation, what remains to be done to maintain acceptable levels of quality in the building industry? 

  1. Suppliers to remain at the forefront of providing specifiers, clients, designers, and contractors with state-of-the-art information to ensure delivery of quality products/structures.                                                  (Which Terraforce and its licensed manufacturers have done for almost 45 years, in the form of design and installation guidelines, design software, laboratory testing, evaluation reports and numerous newsletters/case studies.)
  2. Statutory bodies and professional institutes (such as SAICE) to publish

and promote minimum standards and codes of practice.

SANS 508: 2006, Concrete Retaining Blocks (or as amended), being a material specification, based in part on the original Terraforce block specification of 1991.

SANS 207:2011, The design and construction of reinforced soils and fills 

(or as amended), being a performance specification, also influenced by the Terraforce manual of 1991.

SANS 1044, covering general issues related to safety on building sites, during construction and after. 

Various booklets published by the CMA (Concrete Manufacturers                        Association) pertaining to the design and construction of segmental block retaining walls.

  1. Raising awareness among consumers of the true cost of taking short-cuts and habitually choosing the cheapest offer on the table. Selecting experienced contractors or Terraforce recommended installers is always a safe idea.

(Terraforce, the CMA and various construction publications have regularly raised awareness to good effect. However extraordinary weather outbursts, as they occur at irregular intervals, can put a damper on the good results that were achieved)

This brings us to the need of publishing this advisory, but not before shining the spotlight on some misconceptions that can lead to misrepresentations.

The aforementioned material specification SANS 508: 2006 stipulates a much higher standard for concrete mix designs and dimensional tolerances for retaining blocks, than is required for building blocks. This is often not understood by the customers of such products or in isolated cases not even by the producers of such blocks.

The design of load bearing retaining structures as per SANS 207:2011, BS 8006-1 and ASTM D6916-18 must be undertaken by qualified professional engineers. Some engineers are not routinely dealing with these complex design mechanisms and prefer to task other engineers with more experience in this field. Free design tools such as the Terraforce Table Creator can at best be used to design low domestic retaining walls or they can be used as an estimating tool for tender purposes. Free branded software such as Terraforce Maxiwall is a full design tool that can also be used for estimating purposes and further for difficult calculations in respect of global stability and complex soils, according to international standards. It stands to reason that designs undertaken with free design tools are “belts and braces” designs to minimize the risks involved.

Engineers with years of experience in rational design will produce more
cost-effective designs that have the same stability characteristics. 

If, and when failures do occur, it is mostly due to poor design, sloppy installation/supervision, inadequate stormwater/subsoil water management.

SANS 10400: Part R stormwater disposal prescribes in essence:

  • A landowner is allowed to discharge natural, unconcentrated stormwater run-off onto the lower laying land.
  • Upgrades in the form of buildings of impervious areas add a responsibility, namely to accumulate and convey the excess run-off to  the nearest municipal storm water system, at his own expense and over neighbouring property if necessary. The owner of neighbouring land

must allow access for installation of such a conveyance route.

The designer of such a system should be suitably qualified and must consider the entire potential flood volume of the properties in question and must also stipulate a regular maintenance programme.

A few failure reports that we have seen in recent years, unfortunately suggest that some forensic investigators tasked with assessing such failures, are not fully aware of the stormwater challenges and issues involved.

In conclusion: It is probably fair to say that by following these guidelines, you will gain peace of mind and maintenance of value, that insurance providers will be happy to cover.


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(021) 465 1907  I  Email:

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