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Engineers Call for Inspection Changes

Thursday, August 22, 2013

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Following a fatal mall collapse, regulators are seeking changes to inspection standards and overall transparency in inspection reports from professional engineers.

Many professional engineers had inspected the structure and prepared or signed off on reports regarding the condition of the doomed Algo Center Mall in Ontario, yet severe structural problems were overlooked.

Algo Center Mall
NORR Report / Ontario Provincial Police

The mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, collapsed in June 2012, killing two people.

The Algo Center Mall’s roof-top parking garage partially caved in through multiple levels of the structure on June 23, 2012. Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, were killed, and dozens of others were injured.

Immediately following the collapse, details emerged regarding decades of leaks, flooding, fallen tiles and other structural issues. A forensic engineering report conducted for Ontario Provincial Police found corrosion levels so severe that it took just one second for one car driving over an unstable welded connection between a support column and beam to cause the cave-in.

In a 28-page document submitted to the Elliot Lake Inquiry on Aug. 13, the Association of Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) outlined 11 initial recommendations to change its regulatory framework.

The association is participating in the inquiry in its capacity as the regulator of professional engineers and professional engineering in Ontario.

Engineers Call for Change

The involvement of professional engineers in the 32 years preceding the Algo Center Mall roof collapse has been a focus of the ongoing public investigation that is expected to last into October.

One engineer, Robert Wood, who had inspected the mall’s condition as recently as April 2012, has been charged with health and safety violations in the case. Wood and his colleague, Gregory Saunders, had informed the owners of the mall that it was structurally sound, despite evidence of rust on concrete beams and water damage.

Wood had further testified to omitting details and images from his report at the request of the mall's owner.

Robert Wood
Elliot Lake Inquiry

Engineer Robert Wood has been charged with health and safety violations stemming from the Algo Center Mall. The suspended engineer admitted to altering his report at the request of the mall's owner.

In its report, PEO said a number of “areas of concern” had come to light during the inquiry.

Among those issues are a lack of building inspection standards for existing structures; a general lack of information exchange between owners, engineers and others involved; and inaccessibility of comprehensive information concerning the licensing and discipline history of engineers.

"The PEO hopes that the regulation of professional engineering, professional engineering in Ontario, and the regulation and protection of existing structures such as the mall will be improved such that the terrible events of last year will not be repeated," Leah Price, counsel for the PEO, testified during the inquiry.

Structural Adequacy Report Proposed

The regulators believe there should be guidelines for inspections of existing structures, so that engineers are not limited by terms set by building owners, according to the report.

The association says the proposed guidelines would require that a “Structural Adequacy Report” be prepared following a structural assessment of an existing building. The report could include descriptions of the actions performed, areas not visually inspected and why, and engineering opinions on problems identified and other issues.

corrosion
NORR Report

A severely corroded steel beam fell through the roof of the Algo Center Mall. Engineers retained by Ontario Provincial Police have testified that as many as nine beams were in critical condition and that any of them could have caused a collapse.

The PEO also wants to develop criteria and enact a regulation to qualify “Structural Engineering Specialists.”

The specialist would be required to prepare or check, sign and seal the Structural Adequacy Report.

More Knowledge Exchange

Additionally, the association recommends that engineering inspection reports be shared between engineers, owners and other officials involved.

“It is possible that, had such information been shared, more comprehensive recommendations and remedial work [on the mall] might have ensued,” the association said.

The association proposes that copies of the Structural Adequacy Reports be filed with the Chief Building Official of the relevant municipality.

Discipline Actions Searchable

Also, the association recommends that it continue to make professional engineer licenses, suspensions, revocations, cancellations or terminations publicly searchable information.

The association did not have a search function on its website before the inquiry, but it has since implemented a system.

More Development

The regulators plan to further develop the ideas set out in the report during a roundtable discussion with the Elliot Lake Commission and other participants this fall.

The government of Ontario launched the public judicial inquiry into the incident on March 4, 2013.

Currently, rescue workers and family members of victims are testifying before the inquiry, shedding light on why it took four days to reach the two women buried in the debris, reports say.

The Algo Center Mall, built in 1980, has been demolished.

   

Tagged categories: Building design; Building envelope; Engineers; Fatalities; Parking Garages

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