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CROSS Safety Report

Maintenance of multi-storey buildings

Report ID: 878 Published: 1 February 2020 Region: CROSS-AUS


Overview

A correspondent notes that the issues currently affecting several high-rise buildings in Australia are inevitably focused on design, construction, and certification; whereas there are other issues relating to ongoing inspection, maintenance, and (ultimately) demolition which seem to have been ignored.

The report recommends the production and availability of a “maintenance manual” for buildings so that building owners and potential purchasers recognise the need for ongoing maintenance, which can then be incorporated in future plans and budgets.

Key Learning Outcomes

For structural and civil engineers:

  • Develop a manual which identifies structural elements needing future inspection (with timescales) and indicates how future maintenance can be performed safely

For building owners and managers:

  • Request and require a detailed manual from the design engineers identifying the parts of the building that will require inspection and repair/replacement with indications of likely time-scales, together with method statements for safe working

  • Make certificate of structural safety available and easily readable in public areas in the entrances to buildings

For policymakers:

  • Consider mandatory requirement of provision of “maintenance manual” for all public buildings

  • Consider legal requirement for “certificate of structural safety” to be displayed in public areas/entrances of buildings

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A correspondent notes that the issues, including structural faults, currently affecting several high-rise buildings in Australia are inevitably focused on design, construction, and certification; whereas there are other issues relating to ongoing inspection, maintenance, and (ultimately) demolition which seem to have been ignored.

Understanding of design life and material deterioration amongst building owners

They question if owners of major buildings with no knowledge or understanding of structures, design life and material deterioration know how to look after their assets. Would they think to turn to a “professional person” to provide them with advice, and if so, who would they go to and what would it cost? Reacting to serious incidents when they occur appears to be the common approach, but this may incur very high expense to building owners.

Maintenance manual for structural elements in buildings

Most buildings will have a Maintenance Manual for the building services (e.g., air conditioning and lifts), but the correspondent doubts that many will have one for the structure, identifying key parts of the structure that should be inspected/maintained on a regular basis, rather than waiting for a problem to occur and then fixing it. As key parts of the structure may be very difficult, if not impossible, to access, then systems should be designed and put in place to allow access. The correspondent also questions what happens when the building owner changes, in terms of hand-over of a Maintenance Manual?

Structural safety certificate in public view

The correspondent further notes that most occupants of commercial and public buildings will probably walk through the building lobby where a fire-safety certificate is publicly displayed; although it may be placed where it is hard to read and probably is not noticed by many of the occupants. Despite this, the correspondent believes it is time to introduce legislation for all major buildings to display a certificate in a public place that clearly states the building has been inspected and found to be compliant with the design codes for its current occupancy and usage.

Expert Panel Comments

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There are many examples of structural failures arising from lack of maintenance and although the provision of a maintenance manual would be expected for many types of civil structures such as bridges and dams, they are rarely, if ever, provided for buildings; and there appears to be no requirement in any state or territory legislation, apart from the general obligations on persons who construct and  design structures to provide information under the work health and safety legislation

Recognised need for as-built drawings

In the UK, the CDM (Construction Design and Management) Regulations require final drawings and other material to be handed over to the owner after completion. Unfortunately this may not always be done, or the records may not be complete, but the intention is to have relevant information available for access in the event of later problems.

Danger from hidden deterioration

We accept that our motorcars and our own houses require regular maintenance, yet it appears that many owners of major buildings, such as multi-storey apartments, assume their structure to require no maintenance and that materials not exposed to view have an infinite life. Areas of the building exposed to the weather, such as the exterior façade, are particularly vulnerable but may never be inspected until the owner is alerted to a significant issue.

At the very least, the external façade of buildings should be inspected on a regular basis (say every 5 years) by suitably qualified personnel and preventative maintenance carried out before major problems arise. A difficulty is that some critical components, such as façade fixings to the main frame, are usually hidden and not easily inspected without significant effort.

Missed opportunity

The digital age has brought the promise of BIM, however general feedback is that this rarely gets used post construction, thus creating a missed opportunity. Furthermore, as buildings become ever more complex, there is no legislative or other formal requirement, other than good housekeeping by a client, to keeping records of what was actually constructed. Is this good enough? Should there be a formal record of what has been constructed? In the UK, the Hackitt report Building a Safer Future recommends that a digital record should be maintained for all High Rise Residential Buildings and ultimately held by the owner.

Our attention has been drawn to ISO 15928.3 Houses –Description of Performance- Part 3: Structural Durability that is part of a set of ISO framework standards for single family dwellings, and is focussed on structural durability, including a section on maintenance. Although the intended use is for developing performance standards for housing much of the content of this standard is applicable to larger buildings and it could provide a starting point for the development of standardised guidelines for the structural durability performance and maintenance of all buildings.

Your comments requested

We invite your response to the following questions via the Feedback page on our website:

  • Should a maintenance manual to cover structural issues be provided at handover as a matter of course along with the manuals for building services and the like?

  • Should as-built documents be collated by a regulatory body, i.e., council or state based?

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