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CROSS Safety Report

Importance of bearings

Report ID: 387 Published: 1 April 2016 Region: CROSS-UK

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A reporter is concerned that the long-term characteristics and behaviour of bearings are often underestimated.

Key Learning Outcomes

For civil and structural design engineers:

For asset owners and managers:

  • Regular inspections and maintenance should be carried out in accordance with the specification to ensure bearings do not deteriorate

Full Report

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The Full Report below has been submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s experience. The text has been edited for clarity and to ensure anonymity and confidentiality by removing any identifiable details. If you would like to know more about our secure reporting process or submit a report yourself, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.


Bearings are an important component of the superstructure. A reporter says that they are often underestimated in their long-term characteristics and behaviour. This includes strength, space for inspection, types of connection and anchorages, and ease of replacement. 

It is vitally important to have regular inspections of bearings and seatings with maintenance as required and the facility to replace faulty components.

The reporter wonders whether any systematic study on the overall issues of bearing assembly and associated requirements has been done.

Expert Panel Comments

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The reporter is correct that bearings are important components of bridges and buildings and they may well be neglected. It is important that designers leave sufficient room around bearings for inspection and replacement and that maintenance regimes specify how often inspection should take place. Seized bearings can result in unknown loads being generated and affecting serviceability and ultimate performance.

Failure of the bearings under the Thelwall viaduct on the M62 in 2004 resulted in reported replacement costs of £52 million. There have been other cases where it has been necessary to partially dismantle a structure to maintain or replace bearings. Statements such as ‘designed for life’ or ‘maintenance free’ have to be treated with considerable caution.

A useful reference in this regard is the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) publication Safe access for maintenance and repair - Guidance for designers, second edition 2009.

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