Warning on non-structural risks
24 Nov 2016
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) yesterday released practice advisories to the building industry on restraining ceilings, ducting and other non-structural elements with an eye on improving the safety and resilience of commercial buildings during earthquakes.
“We are seeing too many examples of ceiling panels, ducting and features such as hanging sculptures failing in the Christchurch, Seddon and now Kaikoura earthquakes. Often these features are added after the building has had its Code Compliance Certificate issued, without sufficient thought to the risks they pose in a seismic event. Particular care needs to be taken with those additions which are sufficiently large to cause an injury or death.
Building and Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith said in a statement: “Structural failures in buildings pose the greatest risk to people’s lives but elements such as ceiling panels and ducting can injure people and cause death. These failures are a major component of the post-earthquake repair cost and can significantly disrupt businesses and their staff while repairs take place.
“The guidance is a clear reminder to architects, engineers, contractors, building owners and councils of their responsibilities under the Building Act, that they must make sure the risk of collapse of non-structural elements is low. The various players need to take a well-planned approach to make sure the design is co-ordinated and building elements are appropriately restrained.”
“There is a heightened risk of aftershocks in central New Zealand and it would be timely for people to make sure items such as filing cabinets are adequately restrained. Too many people were injured in commercial buildings by falling cabinets, storage racks and computer screens during the Christchurch earthquakes. Just as people should be making sure large items of furniture or televisions at home are secured, employers should take care to restrain office furniture.”
ICNZ urges enforcement action
In a statement, also issued yesterday, the Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) said that a significant cause of damage to commercial property buildings following the 14 November Kaikoura earthquake is failure to comply with non-structural, seismic restraint guidelines.
“Non-structural, seismic restraints hold air conditioning, fire-sprinkler, telecommunication, electricity systems, lighting and ceiling support systems in ceiling cavities and other parts of the building. These can collapse and pose risks to life and property,” the association said.
“We believe many buildings have had these systems installed and do not comply with New Zealand standard guidelines set for their installation. Appropriately, there is a strong focus on engineering sign-off of structural elements in buildings, but there is little or no monitoring or thorough inspection of the non-structural elements,” ICNZ Chief Executive Tim Grafton said.
The ICNZ renewed its call for central government to oblige local councils to make sure commercial properties meet “non-structural seismic restraint guidelines” when they carry out their fitness inspections.
Mr Grafton said that ICNZ had made submissions twice to Parliament’s Local Government and Environment Select Committee on the issue in 2014 and 2015 to draw attention to the problem. The submissions suggest that territorial local authorities require non-structural seismic restraints as part of building Warrant of Fitness inspections. These are also matters that should be certified as compliant by engineers on completion of new buildings, ICNZ said.