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442 Apollo Theatre London ceiling collapse (news)

Report ID: 442

Published: Newsletter No 34 - April 2014

Report Overview

In January 2014 Westminster City Council circulated some interim guidance regarding the management of suspended ceilings. The investigation of the partial collapse of the suspended ceiling at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue London is still in progress and the Council now have a better understanding of the failure mode of the ceiling. A key element of the interim advice is for theatres to understand the form of construction of their individual ceilings and how the constituent parts are joined together and ultimately supported from the main structure. Some of the relevant information about the Apollo Theatre ceiling is given in this report.

Report Content

This is the full report received in two parts from Westminster City Council:

Interim guidance dated January 2014 and Further guidance dated February 29014

Interim guidance

Westminster City Council in London is conducting a full investigation of the partial collapse of the suspended ceiling at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. The owner of the theatre is co-operating fully in this investigation and has erected a crash deck, the purpose of which will include allowing our nominated experts to more closely examine the ceiling and its supporting structure. The Council has enlisted the assistance of a structural engineer and an expert in historic suspended plaster ceilings in order to ensure we learn as much as we can from this incident. It is the intention of the Council, as the health and safety regulator and licensing authority for theatres in Westminster, to pass on as much relevant information as we can to assist theatre owners or operators to discharge their obligations with respect to the inspection, maintenance and repair of suspended ceilings. This will be done when the Council has received its experts’ reports and has had the opportunity to consider which findings might be relevant to other theatres. Whilst this process is being undertaken, the City Council strongly recommends that theatre owners or operators in Westminster adopt the following interim approach to the management of suspended ceilings. It is a requirement of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, that so far as is reasonably practicable, that workplaces and premises to which members of the public are permitted access are maintained in a condition which is safe and without risks to health.

 Recommendations

 1. Ceiling ‘certificates’ are required in line with premises licence conditions and should be issued in accordance with the latest guidance in the Technical Standards for Places of Entertainment 2013. They must be reviewed in terms of their currency and suitability and any recommendations made in them carried out in accordance with good practice. (Theatre owners or operators must have regard to the requirements of the above standards and in particular the relevant parts of M1 dealing with the certification for structural stability and ceilings and suspended plasterwork).

2. So far as reasonably practicable the ceiling inspection should include viewing the suspended ceiling from above. The person conducting the inspection should also describe the constituent parts of the ceiling structure, how they are connected to one another and ultimately to the main supporting structure spanning the auditorium. (Theatre owners and operators should, in assessing the value of certificates or reports issued, have close regard to the caveats and exclusions attached to them).

3. Review all maintenance work carried out to the ceiling during the last two years to check the quality and durability of the work carried out. (It is a requirement that all records of such maintenance and the ceiling ‘certificates’ that may have led to them are retained to enable you to demonstrate what has been done).

4. Inspection, repair work and maintenance should be carried out by competent personnel.

5. Ensure you have in place a robust management system for the regular visual inspection of suspended ceilings for damage or disturbance and that defects are reported to and reviewed by a competent person to establish their priority as soon as is reasonably practicable.

6. The suspended ceiling management system must include regular inspection of the roof and roof void above for signs of disrepair and water ingress. The satisfactory maintenance of the roof must be considered a high priority.

7. Each theatre should have a detailed ceiling plan which clearly indicates where the suspended elements are located. The plan should be annotated in such a way as to enable theatre employees, contractors and competent persons to be absolutely clear to which part they are referring or describing. (This requirement is particularly relevant to ceiling surveyors and the certificates and reports they produce).

8. You are recommended to use a copy of the ceiling plan to mark up any areas of concern and areas where repairs have been undertaken, together with the date that such works were carried out. Photographs provide very useful information in terms of identifying the location of defects and repairs and their use should be encouraged as part of this recording process. In addition, they should be used to support the written text contained in a ceiling certificate or report.

9. The design and construction of each part of the entire ceiling structure should be known and understood so that repair work and maintenance can be properly assessed and prioritised.

10. Repairs to ceilings in listed theatre may require listed building consent depending on the method and extent of work proposed. Finally, we would ask that all premises submit their latest ceiling certificates or reports and associated maintenance records to the City Council so that we can assess what action has been taken to ensure the continued integrity of their suspended ceilings.

This is interim guidance. The outcome of the investigation may lead the Council to issue further guidance and/or impose some requirements to duty holders based on the findings of this investigation. If you have any queries in regards to above interim advice please do not hesitate to contact Westminster Health and Safety team.

 Further guidance to theatre owners and other places of entertainment

In January 2014 the City Council circulated some interim guidance regarding the management of suspended ceilings. The investigation of the partial collapse of the suspended ceiling at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue London is in progress and we now have a better understanding of the failure mode of the ceiling. A key element of the interim advice was for theatres to understand the form of construction of their individual ceilings and how the constituent parts are joined together and ultimately supported from the main structure. We are now in a position to share some of the relevant information about the Apollo Theatre ceiling.

The fibrous plaster ceiling at the Apollo is supported by an arrangement of timbers using a composite of plaster of Paris and hessian wadding ties. The timbers themselves are connected to one another and the building structure above. Several of these connections are made using a composite of plaster of Paris and hessian wadding ties. It is clear that failed wadding ties have been found to be implicated in the ceiling collapse at the Apollo Theatre. It appears that the failure of these ties has been progressive and led to the sudden collapse of part of the ceiling.

As a result, we recommend that in addition to what was stated in the interim guidance the wadding ties of all suspended ornate ceilings are thoroughly inspected from above as a matter of urgency by a competent historic plaster specialist and a structural engineer. In cases where it is not possible to see the ceiling construction completely, special arrangements to facilitate access should be made and where necessary remote inspection methods (CCTV etc.) should be considered.

Please note that the recommended inspection of the wadding ties is in addition to the requirement of your Premises Licence Condition to obtain a ceiling certificate.

Repairs to ceilings in listed theatres may require listed building consent depending on the method and extent of work proposed.

If you have any queries in regards to above advice please do not hesitate to contact Westminster Health and Safety Team on 0207 641 1063 or by email healthandsafety@westminster.gov.uk

Comments

It is a requirement of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, that so far as is reasonably practicable, that workplaces and premises to which members of the public are permitted access are maintained in a condition which is safe and without risks to health. The failure of a tensile support leading to progressive collapse has been considered in the Structural-Safety Alert Tension systems and post-drilled fixings - March 2014 which includes of a number of collapses. The use of hessian as hanger ties was not considered (or even known about) but the principle is the same. It is important that structural engineers or others making inspections realise that the load on any hanger is highly uncertain. Coupled with the uncertain properties of old hessian and the lack of ductility in such ties a degree of conservatism is warranted.


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