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The Importance of Safety Inspection of Access Structures in Structural Engineering

22 August 2019

Nothing is more important than the preservation of life. Unfortunately, short-term safety solutions don’t always guarantee long-term hazard-protection measures. Harder to enforce, at least from an engineer’s perspective, that maxim necessitates the recruitment of a structurally savvy consulting professional. Take access structures as a prime example of this confidently stated assertion. A gangway crosses a void between two tall, structure-encircling metal frames. Stacked with worker access platforms, a site tech carries out an inspection.

Avoid Non-Accomplished Safety Inspections

The on-site technicians try their best. They even manage to list a few safety-relevant problems. A few heavy-duty fasteners are loosening, and the effects of the weather are combining with foot traffic impact to undermine the safety of a site-essential access structure. The results go into a maintenance logbook and are highlighted for further attention. Again, these actions are to be commended, but they’re simply not enough. What if the access linkage connects two chemical processing pressure vessels? If the construct fails, access to one of the walkway corridors is cut off. Consequently, the pressure vessel’s processing innards are taken out of service. As a result of a missed framework defect, the processing network goes into a productivity dive. To avoid this action, a structural engineer should have been carrying out the safety inspection.

Access Structures are Everywhere

There’s an ordinary structure that looks much like the above access linkage. Known as a sky bridge, they’re seen in large buildings. Hospitals and other environment-maintaining facilities use sky bridges to connect and seal buildings. Other everyday access structures include fire escapes, external roof admission staircases, and plant room mezzanine railings. Even a swimming pool diving board can slot itself into this engineering category if it’s tall enough. Calling upon a consulting engineer, this individual doesn’t stop at a few loose screws, nor does he stop after finding a patch of rust. Welds are integrity-assessed, loading factors are compared against occupancy limitations, and concrete damage issues are added to those metal corrosion predicaments, too.

Furthermore, since an adept technical services agency is now involved, corrective measures can be actioned right away, not after some forgotten maintenance logbook has finally reached the attention of a council foreman. At the end of the day, that’s the most important provision, right? For site technicians and maintenance workers can certainly spot and document a structural defect, but there’s no way to know whether they’ll properly assess the flaw’s seriousness. Structural engineers know a dangerous sky bridge weakness when they see it. They can also determine other access structure defects and tell whether the problem is superficial or a true safety hazard. If it’s the latter, then repairs are instantly mandated.

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