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CROSS Safety Report

School ceiling collapse

Report ID: 130 Published: 1 July 2009 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

Five years after installation a school ceiling suddenly collapsed, pulling the original ceiling and battens with it. The collapse affected virtually the full extent of one classroom.

Key Learning Outcomes

For the construction team:

  • Ceilings should be given the same degree of attention as the primary structure during both design and construction to improve safety, reliability and longevity

  • Selecting the correct fixings for the given environment and anticipated loads is important to ensure they perform as expected

  • Quality control and competent supervision on site can help to ensure that ceilings are built in accordance with the design

Full Report

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A new suspended ceiling incorporating radiant panel heaters had been installed at an existing school a few years ago. The flat-roof above consisted of a timber boarded deck supported on precast concrete beams at approximately 1m centres (Figure 1). It was constructed 30-40 years ago. The original ceiling was of plasterboard fixed to timber battens spanning perpendicular to the concrete beams at approximately 0.6m centres. These battens were secured to the underside of the concrete beams with oval wire nails nailed into timber fillets cast into the soffit of the beams.

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Figure 1: precast concrete beams

The new ceiling and heaters were all supported by a system of hangers all fixed through the original ceiling and into the battens which carried the original ceiling. The plasterboard forming the original ceiling had been left in place. The combined weight of the new ceiling, heating panels and original ceiling was too much for the nails (acting in tension) fixing the timber battens to the soffit of the concrete beams.

Five years after installation the new ceiling suddenly collapsed, pulling the original ceiling and battens with it (Figure 2). The collapse affected virtually the full extent of one classroom. Fortunately, it happened during the school holidays and no one was injured. The new ceiling had been specified by an architect without reference to a structural engineer.

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Figure 2: ceiling and heaters after collapse

No details of how the new ceiling should be supported were supplied and all responsibility for the fixings of the new ceiling and heating system was passed to the contractor. It is not known whether the contractor was aware of the form of the existing roof construction or whether he thought that he was fixing into the underside of traditional roof joists.

No details of how the new ceiling should be supported were supplied and all responsibility for the fixings of the new ceiling and heating system was passed to the contractor

Expert Panel Comments

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Schools have the subject of several previous reports including an earlier ceiling collapse and here again it appears that the importance of a fixing system has not been appreciated. If this had been constructed under present legislation the architect would have failed to comply with duties under CDM in that the hazards associated with detailing such a structure without structural engineering input, or adequate supervision, were not adequately dealt with.

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