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Newsletter 54 - April 2019

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Report Overview

Systemic failures occurred in global banking in 2008 causing huge losses and a lack of confidence in financial institutions. Root and branch changes followed to strengthen the sector and improve stability. The offshore energy industry was appalled by the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster when an explosion and fire destroyed a rig in the North Sea and 167 died. A fundamental review followed of the processes used; new standards were introduced, new regulations framed, and the culture changed. That is until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon event when a blow-out destroyed the rig creating the world’s biggest oil spill. In 2011, a White House commission concluded that the spill resulted from "systemic" root causes. The lesson is that change needs constant updating. Systemic problems have been identified in recent failures, some resulting in multiple deaths. The two crashes of Boeing 737 Max aircraft killing 346 have been linked to software and the aeroplanes are grounded until a solution is found. The disastrous collapse of a tailings dam at a mine in Brazil in January 2019 led to at least 170 deaths. There have been numerous such dam failures and subsequent calls for much stronger regulation internationally. In March 2019, a cruise ship lost power to all four engines in rough seas off a dangerous coast, and had the anchor not held, there could have been a disaster. No doubt manufacturers, operators, and regulators will be examining the cause. Each case has involved engineering systems and the difference between a near-miss and a catastrophe can be marginal. The Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety by Dame Judith Hackitt found systemic issues within parts of the construction and regulatory processes in the UK and calls for wholesale changes in our approach. Similar findings have been made in Australia in the past year. Indeed, are all these cases indicative of weak Regulations and their enforcement? There are tensions in many countries between the those who want less regulation and those who do not. Many of the issues have been identified in CROSS reports over the years and by constantly bringing these to the attention of industry as examples of precursors, more serious, and perhaps catastrophic, events may be prevented. Achieving cultural change is hard. Leadership is key and in construction this means that safety considerations must be the focus of attention in all organisations; be they asset owners, designers, contractors, suppliers, regulators, building managers or government departments.

Overview of Reports in this Newsletter

705 Use of untreated billet connections in precast concrete structures

Whilst completing a third-party design appraisal, a correspondent found that solid steel billets intended to form the primary shear transfer mechanism between concrete beams and columns were insufficient for this purpose.

764 Hidden defects in railway masonry arch viaducts

A reporter is concerned about the sell-off of spaces under railway arches, as it may become difficult to carry out inspections and maintenance.

786 Incorrect load testing of steel lifting frames

On two occasions, a reporter has experienced issues with load tests on steel lifting frames and wonders how many other load tests may have been carried out incorrectly without being noticed.

788 Concrete grade confusion in software

A reporter noticed that the design calculation report generated by a proprietary software package called for "concrete characteristic strength = 45N/mm2", but did not confirm whether this refers to the cylinder or cube strength.

789 Temporary stability of steel frame building

This event concerns the temporary stability of a 4-storey steel frame structure with precast concrete planks and a structural topping.

790 Inadequate product testing for shear studs

A manufacturer provided testing information for a variant product based on a university student Master’s dissertation.

803 High winds cause parapet failure

Exceptionally strong winds caused a fourth-floor level masonry parapet wall with a 1.7m high timber fencing on top to collapse.

804 Inadequate structural design on some industrial steel structures

On some industrial projects associated with plant, a reporter's firm believes that steel structures are being erected without a design being carried out by a competent structural engineer and are therefore potentially dangerous.

624 Wind loads acting on timber frame walls for designs to BS 5268-6

A reporter says that the masonry shielding factors in BS 5268-6 (K100 and K200) were substantially reduced when PD 6693-1 for designs to EC5 was produced, apparently because the original BS method was not adequately vetted.

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