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CROSS Safety Report

Collapse of brickwork cladding

Report ID: 84 Published: 1 October 2007 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

The external leaf of a brickwork pier at first floor level fell down onto the playground of a school adjacent to the main entrance door.

Key Learning Outcomes

For building owners and managers:

  • Regular inspections and maintenance can help keep a structure safe and identify any obvious safety issues that may need to be addressed

  • Be aware that safety critical defects may be hidden behind linings

Full Report

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The external leaf of a brickwork pier at first floor level fell down onto the playground of a school adjacent to the main entrance door. Fortunately, there were no casualties. The reporter believes that the structure is a concrete encased steel frame. Bricks on end had been used on either side of a column between windows to form a cavity and an external skin built without provision for tying back to the main frame (Figure 1).

Image
Figure 1: concrete casing with no ties to brickwork cladding

The school was closed for an initial period of a week whilst investigations were carried out on the rest of the elevation. The brickwork cladding was removed and replaced with an alternative material. The reporter’s firm has advised the local authority in case there are other schools of similar construction in the same ownership.

Expert Panel Comments

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As with many other reports of masonry falls from buildings it is fortunate that there was nobody underneath at the time of collapse. The SCOTCROSS project which gathered data over a two year period up to August 2007 had 1,200 reports of material falling, or in danger of falling, from old buildings. In 12 cases passers by were injured.

A full report on the project was published by the Scottish Building Standards Division. There is a risk to people from falls such as the one given above, and they are usually due to combinations of poor construction, poor maintenance, and weathering. The most significant failures are those where there is a pattern and hence further falls can be expected if nothing is done.

The Scottish investigation may be extended to other parts of the UK but meanwhile CROSS welcomes reports of falling, or dangerous and about to fall, materials. So far as new construction is concerned this is perhaps a timely reminder that good building practice requires the ability to see how all items are restrained and retained within buildings, and that construction industry professionals should be proficient at good detailing.

It is also a reminder to school authorities and school governors of the importance of regular condition surveys to detect defects before they become dangerous.

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