Are public sector and other buildings at risk of collapse?

19th July 2023

Recent press reports have highlighted the slow pace at which the government commitment to building new hospitals – 40 by 2030 – is being implemented with 33 out of the 40 yet to start construction, 5 under construction and only 2 open and in use.

The delay in implementation has however highlighted another issue i.e. the backlog in maintenance of public buildings, particularly hospitals with the maintenance budget significantly increasing.

One of the key areas of concern is the risk of collapse in buildings due to the use of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) components, particularly roofing planks with 34 hospitals identified as at risk of collapse due to the use of RAAC.

The material has been used in the UK since the 1950s and was particularly popular in the construction of public sector buildings such as hospitals and schools. In 1982 the production of RAAC in the UK was halted due to concerns. The seriousness of the issue gained public attention when the roof of a primary school in Kent collapsed in 2018.

Where RAAC has been used risks of failure can be accelerated by re-roofing in different materials and by moisture ingress leading to corrosion risk. If roofs have been re-roofed questions can arise over the type of material used and the increase in loading which the additional material can cause.

If there are concerns over the use of RAAC, an appropriately qualified building surveyor can assist in carrying out assessments. Such assessments are crucial for health and safety reasons and will be important should claims be considered against those who designed, built and maintained the structure.

Given the length of time during which RAAC has been in use in the UK an important consideration if claims are to be considered will be the effect of the Limitation Act 1980 and the potential bar to successfully bringing and pursuing proceedings against those responsible for the design and construction of the buildings in question.

The potential effect of the Building Safety Act 2022, particularly in relation to the implementation of section 38 of the Building Act 1984, and the ability to pursue product manufacturers for extended periods of time as well as the ability to call for Building Liability Orders and Remediation Contribution Orders as part of that legislation should also be considered.

The length of time over which RAAC has been in use in the UK and the nature of the buildings in which it was used coupled with the apparent lack of maintenance the potential for catastrophic collapse should be a matter for concern and lead to measures being put in place to assess the risks in any particular case and so mitigate or avoid potential harm.

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