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CROSS Safety Report

Decorative lights and banners can damage buildings

Report ID: 159 Published: 1 October 2009 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

A reporter raises concerns about large banners and decorative lights that are often put up and attached to buildings without any thought given to the engineering considerations.

Key Learning Outcomes

For event organisers:

  • Be aware that fixings of large banners and lights to buildings and street furniture should be assessed and designed by a suitably qualified and experienced engineer

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There is increasing pressure from advertisers and others, says a reporter, to make use of existing highway and building features to hang banners and decorative lights. So says an engineer who is closely involved with city centre schemes. Often, they go on, it is desired to suspend quite large banners between lighting columns across the street. In general lighting columns [unless specials are requested] are not designed to support any loads other than their self weight and wind loading.

They are tested and certified accordingly. It is also necessary to proportion the foundations correctly against the greater overturning forces. Often such banners are put up without any thought being given to the engineering considerations

Often such banners are put up without any thought being given to the engineering considerations.

Decorative lights such as those commonly erected during the Christmas season (as well as other times of the year) require especial care when it is desired to fix to existing features. In city centres, where there is often a clutter of existing street furniture, it is preferable to fix to buildings rather than provide dedicated columns. 

The problem lies in determining an appropriate fixing point at the correct level along the sides of the street and then tensioning up the support wires. Usually, the buildings are in private ownership and very rarely are there drawings of the structure. The cladding of the buildings will have fixings in indeterminate condition and will not have been designed for additional loading from the suspended lights.

It is tempting on occasions to fix to the easy points such as parapets and balcony railings. Often these are the most exposed structural elements in the poorest condition. This is especially the case in masonry where the bed joint mortar may well have perished. 

As computing power develops, and large banner production techniques advance it is tempting for some designers to be ever more ambitious with their proposals. However, this is often accompanied by the lack of experience in the practicalities of component fabrication and erection and maintenance.

 Also, there is a general lack of thought as to how the public may react to the completed object. It is incumbent upon designers to try to foresee the unforeseeable in terms of loading and unusual uses or misuse. This may result in a good concept not being able to be transformed into serviceable reality.

Expert Panel Comments

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We read press reports about ‘the health and safety’ brigade banning bunting at local events because of concern over insurance issues, and these may be over-reactions, but decorations do appear to be getting heavier and more elaborate The Highway Authority and Building Control have responsibilities and appropriate powers to deal with such issues but the engineering ramifications of hanging heavy decorations from buildings may not be appreciated by the sponsors.

Fixings should be designed for the required loads with appropriate factors of safety and ‘pull-out’ tests conducted to ensure adequate standards. At another local authority Christmas decorations were taken down following damage to a building because the installer was unaware of the need for multiple fixings to distribute the loads.

Temporary TV screens are of concern to CROSS and are referred to in the 2007 biennial report. Some displays require independent temporary structures to be licensed, and this may be a way of controlling connections to inappropriate part of buildings. CROSS will endeavour to raise this matter this with highways authorities to highlight that there have been failures and that concerns have been raised.

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