In early June, a construction worker was killed and another trapped when a North Philadelphia row house collapsed during the demolition process. Another construction worker managed to escape. The city deemed the long vacant building structurally unsound in May, 2017. A demolition permit issued this February required that the work was done by hand and not with backhoes or cranes. The workers were using a sledge hammer at the time of the collapse.
The construction workers killed and injured were apparently following the correct protocols for this demolition. Philadelphia currently has approximately 4,600 buildings considered dangerous.
If a building’s internal load bearing elements fail, the building’s walls will collapse, causing the outside walls to fall into the structure, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Sometimes these collapses occur because the building has fallen into disrepair. Other times, an event such as an explosion, earthquake, or other weather event occurred. Depending on the nature of the cause, the structure may involve a large or small debris field.
Structural Collapse Causes
Besides lack of maintenance and weather events, the eventual cause of a building’s structural collapse may lie in the way it was constructed. While older buildings are more prone to collapsing, relatively new buildings are also vulnerable.
Sometimes structural collapse occurs because of the building’s poor design, or the use of substandard and defective materials in its construction. Often, the foundation was not built properly, or the site did not receive adequate testing or soil preparation prior to building.
If the building is subject to heavy loads that outweigh its carrying capacity, structural collapse may result.
Rescue Workers and Structure Collapse
Emergency responders trying to rescue those trapped in the structure face hazards themselves. These include but are not limited to
Once the site is somewhat stabilized, with utilities shut off and safe routes into the structure shored up, search and rescue teams may continue looking for victims.
It can take a great deal of time to determine the cause of the structural collapse, and who is responsible for it. There is no shortage of potential culprits, including contractors, architects, building owners, inspectors or structural engineers.
If a person was killed or seriously injured in such a collapse, the person or their estate may file a lawsuit against the parties deemed liable. Others who may become involved in such a suit include area residents who inhaled toxins because of the dust and related collapse issues, or injured rescue workers.