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CROSS Safety Report

Balustrades in public buildings

Report ID: 61 Published: 1 February 2007 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

A reporter had a concern regarding a timber balustrade in a showroom.

Key Learning Outcomes

For all built environment professionals:

  • If you notice a potential safety issue not during the course of your work, consider reporting it to the owner or tenant

  • If the owner is not known, then the appropriate regulator could be informed

Full Report

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A reporter had a concern regarding a timber balustrade in a showroom. It was only 900mm high made out of 50mm x 100mm timber framing screwed down to the 38mm chipboard floor of a mezzanine. The reporter had told the owner on many occasions that the balustrade was totally inadequate, but no action was taken until building control officers agreed to tell the building owner to make modifications to improve the balustrade. 

The reporter had a second, particularly worrying, concern about new balustrades at first floor level above an assembly hall in a building under construction. Users of the space will rely upon a balustrade that, in the view of the reporter, is a totally inadequate steel frame with glazed infill panels installed by a small local fabricator. There was no apparent design input and the reporter asked if they are obliged to tell the local authority?

They say that an episode of 'The Bill' on TV showed where a balustrade in a nightclub collapsed due to the pressure from a crowd, and this forcibly brought home the implications and the potentially dire effects of inadequate balustrades. The reporter then wrote to building control to say that if a satisfactory response was not received the matter would be passed to the local authority ombudsman and action was then taken by the Authority.

Expert Panel Comments

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There have been many examples of balustrades and barriers failing under horizontal load at football clubs and at pop concerts. In some cases, there have been multiple fatalities. Designers and local authorities must be vigilant about the risks from inadequate barriers wherever they are.

Balustrades may be inadequately designed from a structural point of view as they are often being deemed to be architectural metalwork. If an engineer has cause to fear that a structure is inadequate then the appropriate authorities should be informed.

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