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Ministry calls for safety checks on nearly 400 at-risk steel structures

Environment and safety watchdogs in Finland are calling on municipalities to inspect close to 400 steel structures for possible flaws that could pose a safety risk. According to information collected by Yle structural defects have already been identified in over 80 buildings.

Urjalan jäähalli sisältä.
The Urjala ice rink in the Pirkanmaa region is one of the properties on the list of at-risk structures. Any structural defects identified will be corrected during the off-season. Image: Petri Aaltonen / Yle

The Environment Ministry and the Safety and Chemicals Agency Tukes want municipalities to run safety checks on nearly 400 steel structures over suspected safety risks.

The list of structures includes ice rinks, riding and sports halls and large steel buildings used for industrial and warehousing purposes throughout the country. The halls were all constructed by the now-bankrupt Nordic Hall/Korato, and another firm, Muotopeite Ltd.

The authorities want the safety checks to verify that the structures and their load-bearing capacity are all in order.

"We are talking about a kind of building where serious structural problems have been detected, even collapses. Because of this it is very important to go over the buildings," said Teppo Lehtinen, head of the Environment Ministry’s building and construction unit.

"These are typically halls that have a lot of people, such as sports halls and workplaces," he added.

The list includes 16 buildings in Tampere, 14 in Kokkola and 12 in Lappeenranta. However Kotka has the largest number of susceptible structures, some 26 altogether. The halls in Kotka are mainly storage facilities that have been inspected and repaired since 2010.

Yle survey reveals more than 80 faulty buildings

Because there is no comprehensive picture of the inspections conducted on the large structures, Yle asked municipal building supervisors for information about the checks and the defects they uncovered. Altogether Yle asked for data about 392 halls between May and June and received responses from 225 but was still awaiting responses from 166.

According to the information provided to Yle, inspectors found that more than 80 buildings on the list were at risk. However the majority of these buildings had either already been repaired, or repairs had been planned.

Just 20 structures had been given a clean bill of health by building inspectors. Officials at the Environment Ministry said that the outcome of the survey was not surprising.

"This is a kind of example of unhealthy competition, given that we have hundreds of halls that will now have to be reviewed," Lehtinen commented.

Information about possible risk factors is missing from nearly 120 structures, and no information had been provided with regard to some 280.

No obligation for routine report on premises

According to the Yle survey, just one in four of the buildings listed had been inspected. In the case of 100 premises, municipal inspectors had no information about whether or not they had been checked for structural flaws. However this does not necessarily mean that they had not been inspected.

Because the owners of the premises are not obligated to file any reports unless serious problems emerge, municipal officials cannot know for certain whether local halls have been inspected at all.

The list contains a mix of buildings affected by new legislation governing their safety, as well as those still enjoying a moratorium before the law kicks in, as well as properties that are not subjected to the legal safety inspection requirement.

In 2015 new statutes came into force requiring a mandatory structural safety check for large halls. The legal reform was spurred by an incident that took place in Laukkaa in 2013, when a riding hall collapsed, killing a 10 year-old girl. The Laukaa hall was designed by a firm known as Maneplan Ltd and constructed by Isola Halls. An appeal court later convicted a chief building inspector for negligent breach of official duties in the case.

The Environment Ministry’s Teppo Lehtinen called on the owners of large halls to assuage the concerns of users.

"A good practice would be for the owner of the hall to provide users with information that the property has been inspected, whether it’s used for sports or for commercial activity," he suggested.

Ball in municipalities’ court

The Environment Ministry sent a message to municipal building inspectors in April this year, communicating the list of potentially at-risk premises. The list is based on data collected by the industry group Structural Steel Association (TRY) about properties supplied by the now-bankrupt firm Nordic Hall/Korato. Nordic Hall was responsible for the construction of a floorball facility in Järvenpää, where the roof caved in in 2010.

For its part, the chemical and safety watchdog Tukes has asked municipal building inspectors to report on the safety of some 17 properties as a result of anomalies that emerged in a building erected by another firm, Muotopeite Ltd. The Tampere-based company has shifted responsibility for the at-risk structure to a subcontractor that allegedly performed the calculations for the structure. It is also planning to take the matter to court.

In addition to the 17 buildings on the list, Tukes has asked for a review of three structures delivered to the Finnish Defence Forces. In that case, the Defence Force is responsible for supervision and inspection.

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