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Quake Protected dismayed at seismic restraint survey results

Quake Protected dismayed, but not surprised at seismic restraint survey results

31 October 2017 - For immediate release

New Zealand’s largest installers of non-structural seismic restraints are calling on the new Minister for Building and Construction Jenny Salesa to crack down on enforcement of non-structural building standards that have been ignored for years.

Quake Protected’s calls come on the back of survey results that show most Auckland and Wellington high-rises have failed to meet earthquake standards to prevent people being hurt by falling objects during a quake.

“We hope this is the wakeup call that both central and local Government need to finally start enforcing the standards that have been in place for years, but which are often overlooked by building inspectors, regulators, building owners and corporate tenants,” said Quake Protected general manager Jeremy Baker.

“By not enforcing these standards, if a quake hits and a building’s non-structural restraints aren’t up to scratch, there is a very real chance that people could be badly injured or even killed,” Baker said.

“It’s high time the Government took this issue seriously.”

The results of a 2016 building inspection survey were released to Radio New Zealand by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) after previously refusing media requests. Radio New Zealand last week reported that this was “the first official confirmation of industry warnings of massive non-compliance to the standards for securing non-structural elements”.

The survey examined 41 floors in 20 commercial buildings in Wellington and Auckland that were four storeys or higher and less than 60 years old.

Auckland had an astonishing 100 percent failure rate of earthquake bracing of fire sprinklers and pipes, and Wellington received a 73 percent failure rate.

MBIE also released a second report by engineering consultancy BECA that said non-structural failures held little threat to peoples' lives, but could cause many minor injuries. That report also said two-thirds of people injured in earthquakes were from the contents of buildings falling on them, such as filing cabinets and screens flying around.

“The fact is that non-structural failures pose a very real and very serious risk in an earthquake,” Baker said.

“There have been standards in place for years that outline how non-structural elements need to be restrained, but they aren’t being enforced and we want to see that addressed by both central and local government.

“We’ve been trying to educate building owners and corporate tenants that one of the biggest risks in an earthquake is the building’s non-structural strengthening… or lack of it,” Baker said.

“A massive chunk of the total repair cost after an earthquake is usually due to the damage of internal and non-structural element failure.”

There is often consequential damage caused from non-structural items in commercial buildings, such as air conditioning, fire sprinklers, electricity systems, lighting, telecommunications and ceiling support systems.

“But it’s more than that,” Baker said. “Not having the correct non-structural seismic restraints in place can put people at serious risk of injury and death.”

The survey results showed that in buildings in both cities 89 percent of ceilings were poorly secured, and did not have any restraints or the restraints were inadequate. All eight key parts of the buildings inspected failed key quake-related standards.

Other failings in the report by engineers Kevin O'Connor and Associates (KOA), included ceilings being suspended on bolts that were beginning to pull out of the hollow slab floors above, even though some buildings had heavy ceiling tiles weighing between 3kg and 8kg, which could easily harm people if they fell on them.

There were also issues with paperwork as KOA found “very little consent documentation for non-structural elements”.

Baker said this was a wake-up call for employers everywhere to asking key questions to ensure their business is quake-safe.

“They need to be asking if seismic restraints are in place, if can staff safely get out of the building without injury, if the business is going to be operational the next day,” Baker said.

“The reason we started Quake Protected is around the preservation of life. If we can get companies to be proactive, have restraints installed properly and help change people’s perception, then the ultimate goal for us is that we save somebody’s life.”

To find out more information about restraints to reduce risks in your workplace, visit Quake Protected at www.quakeprotected.co.nz

Key findings in the survey:

• The newly released survey of high-rise buildings in Auckland and Wellington show nearly all of them fail key earthquake standards.

• 89 per cent of ceilings are not secured well enough to withstand a big quake.

• 85 per of partition walls and 70 per cent of aircon systems in Auckland aren’t secured well enough to withstand a big quake.

• In Auckland, 100 per cent of fire protection system restraints needed upgrading to meet standards that have been in place, but not enforced, for years.

Non-structural building elements are anything that is not the shell of a building, but is attached to it, including:

• Architectural: exterior cladding and glazing, ornamentations, ceilings, interior partitions and stairs.

• Mechanical: air conditioning equipment, ducts, lifts, escalators, pumps and emergency generators.

• Electrical: transformers, switchgear, master control centres, lighting and cable trays.

• Fire protection systems: piping and tanks.

• Plumbing: piping, fixtures and equipment.


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