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Newsletter 57 - January 2020

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Report Overview

There is growing concern about the number of problems requiring remedial works in buildings. They result in additional costs, delays, reputational damage, and a loss of confidence in the credibility of parts of the industry. Revealing the causes of failures should benefit everyone and it is perfectly possible to have a no-blame culture whereby anonymised versions of failure occurrences can be published. In cases where there is a legal dispute, parties will not disclose information which could either incriminate themselves or breach confidentiality obligations (such as for arbitration). Unfortunately, this means that some of the best lessons to be learned are often not available. A further potential source of undisclosed information is the insurance industry which does not generally publish the lessons that might be learned from claims. Recent letters to The Structural Engineer discuss the rising cost of PI cover and its effects. One author has experienced a four-fold increase in premiums over the past two years which, in addition to affecting their business, is a reflection of the risks, actual or perceived, seen by insurers. The same author asks whether the causes might be due to, amongst other factors: over-reliance on computer calculations, poor checking, and poor supervision on site. Rhetorical questions, although all have featured prominently in CROSS reports over the years and will continue to do so until the culture changes. Another cause frequently mentioned is the very low level of professional fees which must affect the quality of service that designers are able to give. To this can be added the sometimes iniquitous pressures from value engineering processes which may give neither value nor do they result in any engineering improvements. These factors are exacerbated by the refusal of some clients to have independent, or indeed any, inspections on site. The industry is being forced to review its attitudes and conduct as a result of the Grenfell Tower fire, and we must strive to ensure that there is not a structural failure of similar magnitude due to some combination of the known, and frequently expressed factors reducing the safety of buildings. Clients, designers, contractors, lawyers and insurers must work together more effectively to share critical information and Structural-Safety will strive to achieve this aim. There are many pre-cursors which we ignore at our peril and the opportunities that CROSS provides for the industry to learn and improve are more important than ever.

Overview of Reports in this Newsletter

885 Disproportionate collapse assessment of Large Panel System (LPS) buildings

A reporter has become concerned by the approach being taken by some engineers to assess the risk of disproportionate collapse due to fire in LPS buildings.

866 Portal frame design and fabrication

A reporter is concerned that, in some cases, no structural design is carried out for steel portal frames.

832 Timber frame wall tie design

The reporter believes that there is no clear way to demonstrate the adequacy of timber frame wall ties to current guidance in areas of moderate to high wind loads.

870 Principal Designers’ obligations for temporary works

A correspondent believes that the new BS 5975:2019 standard places some onerous duties on the Principal Designer.

645 Response to report 614 on missing columns from drawings

A reporter shares their views on how to implement robust checking systems for BIM models.

617 Structures at risk from scour and erosion

Following some recent structural failures, a reporter is concerned that asset owners may not fully realise risks associated with scour and erosion.

854 Suspended ceiling partial collapse

A suspended ceiling formed from a lay-in grid partially collapsed in a school classroom.

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