NEW CODE OF PRACTICE WILL REDUCE RISK OF CEILING COLLAPSES DURING QUAKES
Building and business owners occupying offices where air conditioning and sprinkler systems have been installed unrestrained above ceilings, may be running the risk of a health and safety prosecution for allowing staff to work in an unsafe work environment.
A Code of Practice for the design, installation and seismic restraint of suspended ceilings has been launched by the Association of Wall and Ceiling Industries (AWCI) in response to recommendations from the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission.
“Building owners and business occupiers need to literally look up at their ceilings and think about the infrastructure that is hidden behind the ceiling tiles,” AWCI executive officer John Parkin said. ”Unrestrained services such as sprinkler systems, cable trays and air conditioning systems can collide with each other in an earthquake and collapse through the ceiling tiles onto staff sitting at their desks.
“Older ceiling tiles may be heavy and in themselves would prevent a significant hazard during an earthquake,” he said.
During the Christchurch and Seddon earthquakes unrestrained and poorly planned and designed ceilings and services infrastructure were significantly damaged including sprinkler pipes bursting. As an example, an office block was unoccupied for 15 months after the 6.5 magnitude Seddon quake, with estimated repairs at $10 million as a result of non- structural elements (NSE) damage.
There was no life lost or injury from falling infrastructure or heavy ceiling tiles in either the Christchurch or Seddon quakes, but ceiling collapses have caused deaths in other countries and the potential risk remains high in New Zealand unless addressed.
Mr Parkin said the industry recognised the problem and has proactively worked with the major install and supply companies, BRANZ and MBIE to establish the new Code of Practice.
“There is a need for greater awareness from design and coordination through to final sign-off. If you are a designer, engineer, project manager, ceiling supplier, building contractor, installer, insurer, building owner or compliance official this is very important for your work,” Mr Parkin said.
The project outcomes for the code of practice are to:
- Provide guidance documents for the building and construction industry
- Create greater awareness in the construction sector, from design to sign-off, of requirements and conditions for suspended ceilings that are appropriately designed and are installed to meet appropriate seismic performance limits
- Reduce earthquake damage (and associated repair costs) caused by failure of suspended ceilings
- Address recommendations of the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission on better collaboration and evidence-based information to encourage low-damage buildings and the prevention or limitation of secondary damage
As a result of the submissions received, the Project Team went back to the Institute of Professional Engineers, Institute of Architects and MBIE for further discussions before releasing the Code of Practice at the recent AWCI Rotorua conference.
The Code of Practice is available for free download from www.awci.org.nz