Schools are being identified as having buildings which are unsafe in the event of an earthquake
The Ministry of Education, school boards and local government authorities have been more actively assessing the earthquake risk of school buildings throughout New Zealand.
This has resulted in school buildings being deemed unsafe for staff and students. At 9 July 2011 23 primary and secondary schools in the Wellington region alone were identified as having buildings assessed as unsafe in an earthquake. More schools are likely to be identified as these assessements continue.
PPTA Branches/members should email details of new school building earthquake assessments or related concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org. PPTA will use the information to assist members and branches.
Requirements for alternative classroom spaces when buildings have been assessed as an earthquake risk
The first priority must be the health and safety of staff and students.
The branch/member must respect any assessment by a registered engineer and work actively with management to source alternative classroom space and ensure that any new classrooms are fit for their subject/purpose.
Spaces must be 'fit for purpose'
The school's health and safety representative has an important role in assessing new classroom space for current and potential hazards, e.g. ensuring a temporary classroom for chemistry lessons has appropriate ventilation and equipment. Trained health and safety representatives have the ability to issue formal notices if an employer fails to take all practical steps to isolate and minimise hazards.
Consultation must take place regarding timetables for the use of alternative spaces
Clause 5.1A of the Secondary Teachers' Collective Agreement (STCA) requires consultation around a school's timetable policy. This will be useful if management propose members move into unsuitable teaching space, e.g. to teach hard and soft materials in a prefabricated classroom with carpet and limited power points. Clause 5.1A is a reminder that boards and management must consult with teachers over timetable matters.
Teachers teach. Removal specialists relocate classroom equipment and resources.
Members are employed as teachers to deliver the national curriculum and undertake pastoral care duties. They are not employed as removal specialists for furniture, equipment and resources.
Checklist for earthquake-prone buildings and requests to relocate
The attached checklist is an easy to use tool if faced with classroom closure or a request to relocate. The board and school management can also use the checklist to assess decision making processes around classroom closures.
PPTA field officers can advocate for branches if there are industrial issues as a result of classroom closure or temporary relocation.
When is a school building safe? How do you know?
Design standards for buildings in earthquakes were first introduced into New Zealand in 1935 following the Napier earthquake. Around 1965, three different earthquake zones were identified reflecting the growing knowledge of the different seismicity of various parts of New Zealand.
The Building Act 2004 requires councils to establish an Earthquake Prone Building (EPB) register, to notify owners and set timeframes for action to strengthen or vacate. Buildings with less than one third of the strength of a new building have about 10 to 20 times the risk of serious damage or collapse when compared to a new building.
The Ministry of Education (MoE) property manual guidelines say their buildings must be built to 100% of the standard. IPENZ (Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand) recommends 67% as a minimum.
An EPB is 33% or less than the New Building Standard (NBS). The NBS was revised in 2004 from the original 1991 standard. At 33% or less of the NBS,
an EPB is deemed likely to suffer collapse causing bodily injury or death to persons in the building in a moderate earthquake.
What is a moderate earthquake?
The legal definition is: "In relation to a building, an earthquake that would generate shaking at the site of the building that is of the same duration as, but that is one-third as strong as, the earthquake shaking (determined by normal measures of acceleration, velocity and displacement) that would be used to design a new building at the site."
Who is responsible? Councils, the Ministry of Education, Boards of Trustees?
The Act requires each territorial authority (councils) to have a policy on earthquake buildings but allows them to decide on the approach, priorities and timetable to be followed. By 2006 local authorities were to have developed and adopted a policy regarding local buildings most vulnerable in a moderate earthquake and ensure a balance between earthquake risk and social and economic implications of implementing the policy.
Councils use an Independent Evaluation Procedure (IEP) to determine structural performance before they contact the owners of buildings designated less than 33% of code. Wellington is further ahead than most councils but Crown owned buildings do not appear on the Wellington City Council EPB website list.
State school buildings in New Zealand are owned by the MoE. Some integrated schools have their buildings owned by churches. The MoE initiated a review of school buildings across the country in1998 and spent some money on remediation of buildings. The results of the reviews are held in the local MoE regional offices. Apparently not all reviews have been completed. It is unclear but likely that there are few situations where buildings with high occupancy are below 17%.
We know Golden Bay High School had notice of their building rating at just at 3% which led to a swift evacuation. Wellington East Girls' College's building came in at 17%. Apparently at under 10% the MoEy will advise evacuation but this is not certain. Otherwise the decision is left to Boards of Trustees to manage on the advice of engineers' reports from the MoE.
Not all Boards may have received reports if they are held in regional MoE offices. BOTs have the responsibility under section 16 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act to make sure that all practical steps are taken to ensure that no hazard harms people at the school. Failure to comply with the Act has serious consequences.