Monday, May 07, 2007

Building Construction and Safety

Many people in the United States chafe under some of what they perceive as the more extreme rules and regulations of the federal government's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and so forth. Our local building inspectors, who enforce building codes, also drive a lot of people nuts.

Go to a place like Kurdistan, however, and you begin to appreciate what I would characterize as expressions of the practical extension of the reasoning we find in Deuteronomy 22:8: "When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof."

Should passers-by and users of one's facilities pay attention and take personal responsibility for their actions?

I think no doubt.

But after a while, I began to appreciate the attention to safety regulations in the U.S.

Here, for example, was a building site in the downtown district of one of the cities we visited:

You know how, when walking down the sidewalk in major cities, they build fences around such things? . . .

Several times, I was walking down the sidewalk and realized there was a hole in front of me, big enough to cause myself some real damage.

No warnings, however:

Watch your step! . . .

In daylight, it's relatively easy to see this hazard:

But what about at night?

And this one, when the sidewalk is crowded and/or you're preoccupied for some reason?

No warning signs. No space to walk on the sidewalk. You'd better have good balance and sure footing as you navigate this area immediately adjacent to the sidewalk on a busy street. . . .


In one of the cities, a couple of us visited the site where the ambassadors for Jesus are hoping to open a new outreach center. They have signed a rental agreement on space that is, at this very moment, being constructed.

I am no expert on building construction or building codes, but, having learned a bit about construction with our own building construction projects over the years, I have a strong sense that the following items would not have been permitted to pass inspection.


Here, for example, is a section of ceiling (or floor, actually, for the level above the proposed outreach center):

The exposed pebbles are not an intentional "design element."

The more I saw, the more concerned I became that if--or I should say, when--there is an earthquake (since northern Iraq/Kurdistan is subject to earthquakes), such construction problems pose a serious safety risk.

The building engineers I know call these pockets of relatively uncemented concrete "voids."

I saw a lot of voids in the buildings I observed being built. (And there was a lot of construction everywhere we went in Kurdistan.) . . .

My construction engineering friends tell me you don't want rebar (steel rods placed in concrete for the purpose of reinforcement) exposed, either. The moisture and air tends to cause rust, expansion of the steel, and, therefore, early failure of the concrete:


Let's see.

Ah, yes!

Running a bit short on concrete?

Maybe some trash paper can fill the void? . . .

Oh, yes!

And if the void is really bad, a little patching cement might help . . .


Okay. Here's another interesting problem.

Anything concern you about the floors in this building? (Are they straight? Parallel?)



There's a good reason for them to look as they do: all concrete forms are supported by thickets of free-hand cut-and-placed poplar poles:

Even on tall buildings! . . .

Oh, yes!

And one final picture:

You're permitted to build right next to your neighbor's building.

It appears the excavation contractor dug just a little too close for comfort on this project. . . . So maybe a few poles can shore up the existing building while the new neighbor gets his money together to finish the initial foundation-laying in his own building.

[We stayed in the hotel across the street from this site for a few days. We never saw any work being done. . . . Glad I'm not the neighbor to the person who seems to have begun building!]


So one last story.

M told me about problems with building construction in Turkey. I forget when the earthquake occurred. For some reason 1986 or '96 sticks in my mind.

Anyway. A bunch of buildings collapsed.


Because the building contractor used smooth rebar (so the concrete was unable to "grip") and, perhaps far worse, he used sea sand . . . which means the granules were rounded--unable to interlock the way good building sand does--and it contained salt . . . which is absolute anathema to concrete.

My son-in-law, a building construction engineer, noted that building contractors often complain that engineers often "over-engineer" safety factors in the buildings they design. "The reason they do that is for the very things you saw in Iraq," he said. "The standards in the U.S. are much stricter than they are over there, obviously, but builders still make mistakes . . . and sometimes cut corners."
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