Following the publication of the independent report last week into the failings that led to the wall collapse at Oxgangs Primary School in January 2016, several points regarding the case have been raised. Nine tonnes of masonry fell in the incident that led directly to the temporary closure of 17 schools in Edinburgh; following concerns that a similar collapse could occur elsewhere; triggering intensive structural surveys and an extensive remedial works program that took place over the next few months. The schools in question were built as part of a PFI construction program roughly ten years ago.
The report highlights the bricklaying contractor as being most at fault as they had not installed enough wall ties and of the ones installed, the wrong type were used and a fair percentage were installed at less than 50mm. The wall cavities were also uneven due to the construction process, which all ultimately led to the collapse. The report acknowledges the good fortune that it happened in the hours proceeding the school day.
“The fact that no injuries or fatalities to children resulted from the collapse of the gable wall at Oxgangs School was a matter of timing and luck”.
From a design point of view, little fault was found with the specified design. It was, however, noted under the contributing factors to the incident that the bricklayers on site were working to the issued architect’s drawings on site and were not referencing or reading the separate structural drawings that had been made available. Due to liability issues, the architects had, understandably, opted to not show the key structural principles on their drawings, a factor that was concluded to have led to the building being built differently to what was specified on the design.
Due to this observation, one of the report’s conclusions was the following:
“The Inquiry is of the view that all relevant structural information, details and specifications impacting on the structural integrity of the building should be included on the structural engineers' drawings in a form which is fully integrated with the architectural design.”
This is an interesting angle to take on board for all designers as it highlights a thought-provoking debate regarding where liability lines for issued designs interferes with the on site safety of those undertaking the works and, as in this case, the end user of the building.
Additionally, an issue was highlighted regarding poor storage and availability of information following the works which delayed and impacted the remediation works. This was particularly relevant to the as-built drawings which did not fully match the school buildings in a number of cases.
Edinburgh Council have concluded that lessons will be learnt from the report.
Professor John Cole, author of the report, also raised questions for the construction industry as a whole regarding whether the push for quicker, cheaper construction is affecting safety and quality of works on projects. Interesting food for thought for all within the industry.
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