Structural Inspections – An Important and Vital Responsibility Toward Public Safety

June 8, 2017 - A recent decision in a Sault Ste Marie, Ontario court room that found a former engineer that declared an Ontario mall structurally sound just weeks before its deadly collapse five years ago be acquitted of criminal negligence - this finding should be a warning sign to owners of all public facilities to ensure that they are in direct care and control of all professional assurances. 

The ORFA continues to raise concern surrounding Ontario’s aging recreation infrastructure and the fact that some of these facilities may be suffering from the same deterioration variables as what contributed to the Elliot Lake mall failure. Since the Ministry of Labour transferred the responsibility of ensuring that all Ontario's recreation facilities conduct structural inspections no less than every 5-years to building owners under Section 25 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act whereby it states: An employer shall ensure that, (e) a building, structure, or any part thereof, or any other part of a workplace, whether temporary or permanent, is capable of supporting any loads that may be applied to it, (i) as determined by the applicable design requirements established under the version of the Building Code that was in force at the time of its construction, (ii) in accordance with such other requirements as may be prescribed, or (iii) in accordance with good engineering practice, if sub-clauses (i) and (ii) do not apply.  R.S.O. 1990, c. O.1, s. 25 (1); 2011, c. 11, s. 9” – the warning that is being raised by ORFA includes how many recreation facility managers/owners have actually undertaken and maintained such formal inspection review.

The mall collapse further forced the Professional Engineers of Ontario to review current best practice and generate a structural engineer design guideline to assist owners in generating the right relationship with a recognized structural engineer. However, it is important to note that the onus remains with the owner of the facility to schedule the most appropriate structural inspection based on: date of construction, building materials, known building issues and other such related construction matters. The ORFA recognizes that structural inspections can be costly and that such an expense is most often questioned during budget deliberations. However, the responsibility for owners due diligence is a priority and safe operation is expected by employees and the general public every time they enjoy one of Ontario's recreation facilities. The structural collapse of any of these buildings cannot be pointed to a lack of professional care and control or resources.

The ORFA recommends that recreation facility management must continually embrace their role as information broker to senior key decision makes so that informed decisions can be made on sound regulatory or industry best practice. In the case of recreation infrastructure, the ORFA has promoted that inspections be no less than every 5-years or sooner for wood structures, and more often for any building showing fatigue or suffering from maintenance neglect.