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Newsletter No 47 - July 2017

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Report Overview

In humanitarian, social and engineering terms the catalyst for profound change is often a catastrophe whose name is remembered for years to come. Grenfell Tower will become one such tragedy and the ramifications of the fire will resonate into the future. The heartfelt sympathy of everyone goes to the families and friends of the victims who died, those who were so grievously wounded, and those whose futures will have been so damaged. Other tragic fires such as Bradford Football Stadium (1985), Kings Cross Underground (1987), and Piper Alpha (1988), resulted in changes to Stadium design and construction, underground railways, and offshore platforms respectively. Their names remind us of the event but not of the human cost. Fifty-one years ago, a small gas explosion at high level on the Ronan Point block of apartments triggered a disproportionate and progressive collapse. Eventually this resulted in changes to Building Regulations in the UK and elsewhere, changes to the approaches to structural robustness, and new generations of safer towers. A form of failure not previously encountered led to a transformation by learning from a disaster. The same must happen with Grenfell Tower where performance across a range of issues has clearly not been as intended, with consequences that have so horrified the public and experts alike. The full implications will not be known for some time. It is of course essential that as much as possible of the forensic evidence will be collected and preserved. Importantly the announcement of a Public Inquiry means that evidence and recommendations will be in the public domain and not, as is often the case with collapse investigations, hidden behind non-disclosure agreements. The terms of reference must be wide, the Inquiry must proceed quickly, and its findings must be published as soon as possible and widely disseminated. Particularly those with implications for other tower blocks and perhaps other large buildings. The voices of those with knowledge and experience, as well as the public, must be listened to and recommendations implemented. Communities rightly expect their homes, hospitals, schools, and places of work to be dependably safe and secure. Not vulnerable to unconfined fire or other disastrous events. SCOSS was set up in 1976 to monitor issues of structural safety in the built environment and it has exercised that role ever since. From 2005 CROSS has collected confidential reports on concerns about structural safety. Consequently Structural-Safety (SCOSS and CROSS combined) has a unique insight into the causes of many failure events and into how lessons can be learned and disseminated to benefit the public and the industry. This information will be available to the Inquiry. Those engaged in the development of large buildings be they clients, architects, quantity surveyors and cost consultants, structural engineers, mechanical and electrical engineers, fire engineers, regulators and local authorities, researchers, main contractors, suppliers, sub-contractors, surveyors, resident engineers and clerks of works, must always have a care for the safety and well-being of occupiers and those who may be sent in as rescuers. Government departments too. There are high ethical standards to be maintained as well as legal duties and the exercise of diligent and competent work and oversight. Structural engineers can, and should, demonstrate leadership where issues critical to life-safety are involved. There must be action from government and industry.

Overview of Reports in this Newsletter

681 Polyethylene core cladding panels used on residential high rise building

A reporter is writing as a precautionary measure following the Grenfell Tower Fire to say that a similar type of rainscreen panel, ie a polyethylene core with metal skin, was used at a residential tower block which they visited in 2011. It is believed that this block is privately owned so would not necessarily be picked up in a review of buildings owned by local authorities and housing associations.

664 Steel canopy collapse during building completion works

During the construction of a major new school facility, a 57 metre single span structural steel truss failed, resulting in the catastrophic collapse of a steel framed canopy supported by the truss. At the time of failure five workers were on the top of the canopy, some 15 m above ground level. All received significant injuries but survived. The immediate cause of the failure was associated with the fracture of a number of sub-size fillet welds joining paired load bearing tie bars at nodal points.

672 Unacceptable quality of construction and lack of supervision on a block of of flats

The project involves new buildings for residential flats over a single storey basement. He attended site a number of times in the early stages of construction and found issues including: - poor document control, - using superseded drawings on site, - incorrect/failure to install temporary works required to prop the perimeter piled wall, - omission of designed steel reinforcement, and undermining of adjacent structures.

620 Steel Balconies fixed to Precast Hollowcore Floor Planks

A reporter's firm has been carrying out structural design calculations for a specialist steel fabricator on a housing project. He is concerned about the suitability of providing a retro-fitted steel balcony requiring moment connections to the sides of typical hollow core floor planks.

639 Near miss - spalled concrete falling from rear face of drilled hole 26 floors up

Holes were being drilled for resin-anchor fixings, where the back face of the wall being drilled was located above a 26 storey lift shaft. During drilling, it appears that the operator over-drilled the hole (drilling deeper than the 150mm hole depth specified) and this caused spalling on the back face of the concrete, causing a lump of concrete to fall down the shaft.

651 Failure of fabricated access staging board

A member of a team working on a major bridge reported a close call after the supporting mesh flooring on a new access staging system gave way under his foot.

652 Designer competency and missing rebar

A reporter says that on a major highway project it was noticed that the contractor was casting a pad foundation. However, there was no reinforcement in the base. The contractor stated that this was an innovative design which allowed for fast-track construction.

663 Inability of roller shutter doors to meet the pressure specification for dominant openings

A reporter is working on buildings located in a mountainous region of Scotland. Two buildings had sets of roller shutter doors specified for 3.5kN/m² up to 10m span, which failed within weeks of installation at winds far below the pressures that would be normal for buildings set in England and Wales.

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