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CROSS Safety Report

Generic designs for steel beams in domestic buildings

Report ID: 245 Published: 1 October 2011 Region: CROSS-UK

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A reporter raises concerns about the production of generic steel beam designs.

Key Learning Outcomes

For all built environment professionals:

  • It is important to recognise and know the boundaries of your expertise and work within the limits of your competence

  • Be aware that Health and Safety legislation places duties on individuals as well as companies to ensure that they do not put people at risk of harm

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The reporter has been approached by an architectural services company to produce generic steel beam designs. They say that load assessment could be done by the company, and then a (possibly) unqualified person refers to the ‘generic design’ for a specified span to check that the assessed load is less than the apparently allowable load given by the programme. This, according to the reporter, is not a safe practice and CROSS should be alerting local authorities to be vigilant.

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In a sense this is similar to the use of traditional span/load tables except that a ‘design’ is produced which may not properly represent the actual circumstances. The impression may be given that the calculations are more than an approximation and the risk is that even in domestic property alterations it can be quite challenging to work out a sensible design load.

This requires knowledge of structural behaviour, particularly when loads may not be applied in the way assumed in a generic design. There are a number of issues, for example end restraint, lateral loads and possibly lateral torsional buckling which may not be recognised and could make the generic case inapplicable. Traditional load span tables and software set down the scope of their use very clearly so that ‘interpretation’ of use is not required.

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