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CROSS Safety Report

Concern over the quality of steel fabrication for street furniture

Report ID: 801 Published: 1 July 2019 Region: CROSS-AUS

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The reporter is concerned about the quality and maintenance of welded fabricated steel structures used in street signs and other street furniture.

Key Learning Outcomes

For owners and managers:

  • Understanding that street furniture such as signs, posts and hoardings are potentially life-threatening structures if not properly fabricated

  • Recognition of the benefits of having a regular inspection and testing program of all critical structural and non-structural elements, in this case, street signs and furniture

For structural and civil engineers:

  • Awareness of current Australian Standards and any proposed updates

  • The Australian Steel Institute can be a useful source of advice on all aspects of steel fabrication

For steel fabricators:

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A reporter, who is a metal worker and MIG welder, refers to CROSS report 793 published in CROSS-UK Newsletter 52 entitled “Street sign collapse causes fatality”.

The accompanying photograph in that report shows corrosion and internal rusting to the supporting post. In the view of the reporter, such a post should have an expiry date for replacement, or a requirement for periodic inspection.

Quality of steel

This reporter has been concerned for many years about the variation in quality of the steel that metal workers are being made to use and believes that there are some seriously sub-standard quality steels that should not even be considered for use.

They are also seriously concerned about the tensile strength and durability of steel, particularly in connection with public utilities such as the above example of a street sign. These are serious issues in terms of public safety.

Inspection and testing

The reporter is strongly of the opinion that all substantial welded fabricated engineering projects should be regularly inspected, for not only the actual welds themselves but also for the state of the steel and x-rayed internally for rust/moisture, metal deterioration, and other defects.

Expert Panel Comments

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Those responsible for the procurement of signs, posts, hoardings, and other forms of street furniture must be aware that they are dealing with potentially life-threatening issues and act accordingly.

Specifications must be of a high enough standard to give confidence that the components in question will give long, reliable, and safe service. The same standards must be followed through for construction, inspection, and maintenance.

Australian standards for steel fabrication

Attention is drawn to the Feedback on Report 390 by Professor Gregory Hancock on the CROSS-AUS website where he advised that the relevant standards AS 4100 Steel Structures and AS/NZS5131 Structural Steelwork - Fabrication and Erection were in the process of a major revision related to fabrication and erection issues..

Steel should comply with Australian Standards and there are organisations such as the  Australasian Certification Authority for Reinforcing and Structural Steels (ACRS) who can certify the origin of the steel before manufacture.

There have been many cases of non-compliant steel used with disastrous consequences as highlighted by the Australian Steel Institute in Steelwork Quality and Compliance.

Limitations of testing and inspection of steel members

Designers should be aware of the limits of simple tensile tests e.g. there have been failures of steel members where a simple tensile test has recorded values well above the minimum required for that grade of steel, but subsequent Charpy tests and chemical analysis have shown this was at the expense of ductility. The problem is that the quality of steel cannot be determined by visual inspection so reliance is placed on certificates from suppliers and diligence is required to ensure that these are accurate.

For critical items, external independent welding inspectors should be used both for the initial assessment of the welders and subsequent periodic testing of the welds. The small cost of independent welding inspection by an Australian NATA registered inspection company should not deter designers and specifiers from specifying these requirements.

Specifications to include durability

Designers also need to ensure that corrosion and durability are properly considered in their designs and specifications. Owners should then ensure that the design and these requirements are incorporated into contract documents provided to the builder.

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