Canadian Consulting Engineer

Elliot Lake Inquiry Report issued – with profound implications

The much anticipated report of the Elliot Lake Inquiry into the partial collapse of the Algo Centre Mall roof was released at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, October 15. If the Commissioner's recommendations are implemented, they will have a profound...

October 15, 2014   Canadian Consulting Engineer

The much anticipated report of the Elliot Lake Inquiry into the partial collapse of the Algo Centre Mall roof was released at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, October 15. If the Commissioner’s recommendations are implemented, they will have a profound effect on structural engineers and their practice in Ontario.

Commissioner Paul Bélanger made public his findings in the northern Ontario town where the disaster occurred on June 21, 2012, and where the hearings were also held.

Two women inside the mall were killed when part of the roof-parking deck of the 30-year old mall fell onto them.

The inquiry looked into what caused the structural collapse and examined related bylaws, standards and policies related to existing buildings. The resulting report gives recommendations for changes to those rules and regulations as they apply to the maintenance and inspection of publicly accessible buildings.

Among the recommendations are:

– That there should be a mandatory province-wide Minimum Structural Maintenance Standard for all buildings.

– That owners of buildings should be required to ensure that their buildings comply with the Minimum Structural Maintenance Standard by ensuring that they are inspected periodically by a professional engineer.

– That Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) should create a performance standard for structural inspections and that it should be conducted by a structural engineering specialist.

– That structural adequacy reports should be entered in a public registry and provided to the chief building official.

Regarding the regulation of the engineering and architecture professions, he writes that PEO “should establish a system of mandatory continuing professional education for its members as soon as possible, and in any event no later than 18 months from the release of this Report.”

The Commissioner had harsh words many of those who had been involved in the chronically leaking building over the years and failed to act even though the building had leaked chronically for years and was known among locals as “Algo Falls.” The leaks are believed to have caused corrosion in a structural connection that resulted in the failure of 2012.

Following is an extract from the report’s summary of conclusions:

“Although it was rust that defeated the structure of the Algo Mall, the real story behind the collapse is one of human, not material, failure. Many of those whose calling or occupation touched the Mall displayed failings — its designers and builders, its owners, some architects and engineers, as well as the municipal and provincial officials charged with the duty of protecting the public. Some of these failings were minor; some were not. They ranged from apathy, neglect, and indifference through mediocrity, ineptitude, and incompetence to outright greed, obfuscation, and duplicity. Occasional voices of alarm blew by deaf and callous ears. Warning signs went unseen by eyes likely averted for fear of jeopardizing the continuing existence of the Mall — the social and economic hub in Elliot Lake.

“Some engineers forgot the moral and ethical foundation of their vocation and profession — to hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. They occasionally pandered more to their clients’ sensitivities than to their professional obligation to expose the logical and scientific consequences of their observations. Some of their inspections were so cursory and incomplete as to be essentially meaningless. Others were fundamentally flawed because they were were based on false assumptions or calculations.”

The Commissioner had particular criticisms for Robert Wood, the former engineer who last examined the roof before its collapse and who is facing criminal charges.

He also discussed at some length in an Addendum the report that was anonymously provided to him nine months after the hearings had closed. The report was a 1988 study entitled “Deterioration of Parking Structures,” prepared for the provincial government on the need to rehabilitate such structures due to salt corrosion problems.

Justice Belanger said he was grateful for whoever had provided that report and questioned why it had not been mentioned during the hearings, “given that many participants in the Inquiry had been involved in its preparation almost three decades before.”

Professional Engineers of Ontario issued a statement within half-an-hour of the release of the report saying it was pleased that the commissioner had adopted many of the recommendations the association had made to the Inquiry.

To read the Report of the Elliot Lake Commission of Inquiry Executive Summary and full reports, click here.

To read PEO’s press release of October 15, click here.


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