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CROSS Safety Report

Inadequate structural design of school extension

Report ID: 597 Published: 1 October 2016 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

On review of a design for a school extension, a reporter noted several major issues including an almost total lack of vertical bracing throughout the extension.

Key Learning Outcomes

For all built environment professionals:

  • If you are aware of a live or urgent safety issue:

    1. Your first step should be to raise this with the organisations concerned if possible

    2. If applicable, you should speak to your line manager

    3. If this does not resolve the issue, or if the response you receive is inadequate, then you should inform the appropriate regulator

  • 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

Full Report

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A reporter was appointed by a contractor to undertaken specific temporary works design for an extension to an existing primary school. The extension included a teaching block and an enlarged hall.

As part of this process, they received the original structural engineer's design drawings and calculations. On review, the reporter noted several major issues including an almost total lack of vertical bracing throughout the extension, and a total lack of roof bracing in the hall.

On review, the reporter noted several major issues including an almost total lack of vertical bracing throughout the extension, and a total lack of roof bracing in the hall.

The design was carried out internally by the local authority who was responsible for the school, yet it appeared to the reporter to have been carried out by inexperienced engineers with lack of adequate or competent checking.

These concerns were raised to the contractor who then relayed them to the local authority and modifications were made. This is at a time, they say, when there have been closures of a number of schools in Scotland due to construction issues.

Expert Panel Comments

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This is about the importance of a structural design being carried out, and thoroughly checked, by competent engineers.

It was fortunate that due to the diligence and experience of the temporary works designer, the issue of unsafe design was picked up and corrected. Indeed, when a professional engineer notices defective design or workmanship, there is a moral obligation to advise the building owner/operator.

The apparent lack of basic understanding of overall building stability in reports such as this is alarming and raises once again potential deficiencies in training of engineers and competent checking processes within design/drawing offices. 

The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) Stability of buildings publications provide guidance on the structural stability of buildings. They contain valuable information, such as the diagram in Figure 1 below which shows how horizontal load is carried from façade to ground by way of bracing.

Image
Figure 1: horizontal load paths from façade to ground (Source: IStructE Stability of buildings publications)

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