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CROSS Safety Report

Structural assessments of multi-storey car parks

Report ID: 224 Published: 1 April 2012 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

The parking industry has in recent years (2012) seen several MSCPs closed due to structural fears, says a reporter, which begs the question how close were they to structural failure before they were taken out of service?

Key Learning Outcomes

For car park owners and operators:

  • Regular inspections and maintenance can help keep a structure safe and help identify any obvious safety issues that may need to be addressed
  • The British Parking Association in its Master Plan  recommends that:  ‘Owners and operators set aside funds from income streams to finance periodic structural inspections and essential maintenance of car park structures’.
  • The planning portal from the Department of Communities and Local Government has a report ‘Enhancing the whole life structural performance of multi-storey car parks’ which provides guidance and advice

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The parking industry has in recent years (2012) seen several Multi Storey Car Parks (MSCPs) closed due to structural fears, says a reporter, at least two of which have since been demolished, which begs the question how close were they to structural failure before they were taken out of service? Some MSCPs hold more than 1,000 vehicles and therefore a collapse could be catastrophic. 

Although progress was being made with publications by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) (see references in comments below) we should be much more interested in the potential problems of structural safety in MSCPs. The reporter believes that many of the car parks in the local authority sector are in a very poor state of repair and they are not inspected as the money that they make is diverted elsewhere.

The reporter has recently inspected some car parks - not one has been assessed structurally, they have no fire safety certificates, no electrical certification, asbestos is visible, the bolts are loose in the vehicle impact barriers, etc.  etc.....and on the outside of each car park is a large sign displaying that it is a safe place to park. One of the underground car parks is reported to be flooded to the depth of a swimming pool – and it supports a large building above. Accidents continue to happen both at home and at overseas but there is, says the reporter, insufficient legislation to control the situation. 

Expert Panel Comments

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Headline events such as the at Pipers Row car park collapse in the UK in 1997, a Montreal parking garage collapse in 2008 (see Canadian News report), and others show that severe, and sometimes fatal, failures occur in such structures. 
MSCPs are unique structures in many ways as they are:

  • Subject to relatively severe weather conditions due to exposed structure, carbonation etc

  • Sensitive to waterproofing finish failure

  • Sensitive to expansion joint sealant failure

  • Subject to extremes of thermal loading akin to bridges but rarely detailed to the same standard as bridges

Regular inspections

The typical pattern of deterioration is such that failure is likely to be indicated by spalling but may be sudden and brittle with little or no warning. Given the history, and the likely consequences of failure, there may be a case for making it a legal requirement to have regular inspections of these structures. In the absence of such requirements those involved should ensure that their concerns are expressed in clear terms to their clients, with the consequences (to individuals and organisations) of failing to act being outlined.

Given the history, and the likely consequences of failure, there may be a case for making it a legal requirement to have regular inspections of these structures.

It may be that some owners and operators tend to ignore current legislation (not to mention their own liabilities) on the basis that a collapse of a MSCP is a rare occurrence. This is true, but they may be unaware of how close inadequately inspected and maintained car parks can come to collapse. It has been found that insurers take the same view on the basis that claims for collapses are few and the risk is acceptable given the number of car parks that they insure.

Are lack of funds compromising safety

From work carried out to date by the British Parking Association (BPA) it would seem that the most managers would like to maintain their facilities but are prevented from doing so by lack of funds. The BPA in its Master Plan therefore recommends that:  ‘Owners and operators set aside funds from income streams to finance periodic structural inspections and essential maintenance of car park structures’.

Local authorities are non-profit making and any surplus of income from parking may sometimes go to support other services. It would, according to BPA, therefore be a major step forward to have legislation in place to provide an allocation of funds for proper inspection and maintenance in accordance with current legislation. Local authorities, practices differ, and some carry out their responsibilities very thoroughly and have excellent MSCPs.

In the aftermath of the Montreal collapse a coroner called for tighter inspection rules after finding that a car park that collapsed and killed a man was badly built and maintained. She says the structure, built around 1970, was in a sorry state and had surpassed its useful life.

Guidance and publications

Designers should take account of the durability requirements of car parks and there are three helpful publications.

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