CROSS Safety Report
Overall stability of building proposed to be provided by metal framing and plasterboard
Metal framing and plasterboard was used to provide lateral stability to a building. The form of construction was later deemed to be unsuitable and extensive remedial works had to be carried out.
Key Learning Outcomes
For structural and civil design engineers:
- Most experienced structural design engineers are unlikely to rely on plasterboard to provide a building’s stability system
- The Institution of Structural Engineers publication Stability of Buildings is a helpful guide as to how buildings are engineered to have stability and robustness
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This report concerns the use of metal framing and plasterboard to provide lateral stability to parts of a building. The building was divided into a number of blocks. Each block was isolated from the adjacent to help improve acoustic insulation. The walls of the building comprised of cold formed steel framework sheathed in plasterboard.
The framework for each block, says the reporter, was effectively separate and did not connect to the adjacent parts of the building. Each block, therefore, had to be provided with its own means of ensuring lateral stability or racking resistance. The frameworks consisted of stud, sole and head members connected together. The cold formed steelwork frames were sheathed in plasterboard; the steel framework and plasterboard were intended to provide the required racking resistance for each block.
The reporter goes on to say that the construction was later deemed to be unsuitable and extensive remedial works had to be carried out.
Expert Panel Comments
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A structure must not only transfer gravity forces to the ground but also stand up against lateral forces such as wind loadings. The combination of structural elements that keep the building standing against these lateral forces is referred to as the building’s ‘stability system’ or ‘lateral load resisting system’. Walls of various construction types can be part of a stability system; masonry walls suitably connected to other structural elements for example.
However, the use of plasterboard fixed to cold formed steel framing to provide the stability system for a building would not be considered by most experienced engineers. When tested, panels comprising plasterboard and steel framing will show useful racking resistance. There will, however, be significant doubt as to whether that resistance will exist for the life of the building.
A fragile stability system
There would be concerns about how fragile a plasterboard stability system would be, and concerns about the implication of future damage or modification. It is easy to imagine the plasterboard getting damaged, being removed or being replaced, with the parties involved not understanding that the plasterboard is actually keeping the building stable.
It appears in this case there was a decision after construction, that relying on plasterboard for the stability of a building was not a good idea, a decision likely echoed by most experienced structural engineers. Such construction would be considered not to have adequate robustness.
The Institution of Structural Engineers publication Stability of Buildings is a helpful guide as to how buildings are engineered to have stability and robustness.
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