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RE:STEEL: Lateral Support for Open-Web Steel Joists

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Since this is an existing condition it may be that there is something going
on that explains why this has not failed already.  I would first make an
attempt to understand the issues and potentially consult with an expert.

If their continues to be a technical concern I would deal with this as
primarily a legal not a moral issue.  Morality has to do with how you will
sleep at night whidh may be the least of your concerns.

First I would raise the issue with your client.  I would be clear regarding
the potential consequences and I would put it in writing.  If they act on
your recommendations then there is no problem.   

If they either drag their feet or reject your recommendations I would
consult with an attorney knowlegable about professional liability issues. 
At this point you have probably lost your client and your primary goal is
to protect yourself.  The advise that I got in a somewhat similar situation
was to report my concerns to the building official.  Do not report the
problem to anybody else.  If you mention your concerns to other than an
appropriate government oficial your client may be able to sue you for any
economic loss such a disclosure may cost them.  If you mention the problem
to some workmen and they walk off the project the Owner probalby will have
an easy claim against you.  If you notify a building official,  this form
of communication is protected by law, and they in effect cannot sue you.

If the building official decides to do nothing the impression that I have
is that you would not be liable to do any thing else.  Here again talk to
an attorney.   If you decide to be a whistleblower be aware that you may
become road kill.  If you are tempted to go this route talk to a
psychologist about whistleblowers and what the process does to them.  It is
not pretty.  It is not just your career that is at risk.

I do not see any benifet in talking to the board of registration for your
state.  They will not be able to give you the legal advice you will need
and a lawyer who knows about professional liability issues should know the
applicable legal issues.

Mark Gilligan

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I've had to deal with this type of thing before.  BEFORE you do ANY work
on the addition, have a meeting with the owner and plainly tell them
that the posted load is incorrect (make sure it is first) and they
cannot load it up to that magnitude.  Ask them if they would like you to
determine what the REAL capacity of the system is OR if they want you to
determine a retrofit solution to bump it up to the rated capacity (if
this is possible -- might be very costly).  If they don't want you to do
anything with it, then tell them that you will design the NEW bays to be
independently supported (including against lateral ... do you guys have
"interior" lateral in Texas?).

In regards to WHO you should inform regarding the existing system, check
with your licensing board first:  Is it enough to simply alert the owner
or does Texas law require you to inform the Building Official (or
someone else) as well?  Does the existing system show obvious signs of
distress?  If so then anyone and everyone should be notified if the
owner refuses to take action (I can't imagine they'd do this).  If the
system does NOT show signs of impending failure, perhaps it is enough to
simply notify the owner, IN WRITING, that the rated load MUST be
changed.  Be careful, though, because whistleblowing can also backfire
if it is not done responsibly.  I have a very good Canadian book on
engineering ethics entitled "Canadian Professional Engineering Practice
& Ethics" (Gordon Andrews, 1992) in which he states:  "A whistleblower
must also be aware that the process may involve public exposure and
scrutiny of the engineer and may place his or her career in jeopardy.
Therefore, whistleblowing is not an act that should be entered into
casually, unknowingly or wantonly."  BEST course of action is to seek
the opinion of your licensing board.

I would be very curious to see other opinions of action.

Dave K. Adams, S.E.
Lane Engineers, Inc.
Tulare, CA
E-mail:  davea(--nospam--at) <mailto:davea(--nospam--at)>=20

        -----Original Message-----
        From: Bill Polhemus [mailto:bill(--nospam--at)]=20
        Sent: Wednesday, August 04, 2004 2:00 PM
        To: seaint(--nospam--at)
        Subject: STEEL: Lateral Support for Open-Web Steel Joists


        I have a job that requires adding on a couple of bays to a
mezzanine level in an auto parts supply warehouse. The existing
mezzanine level has steel bar grating supported on K-series steel
joists. The real kicker is that the floor is rated (sign is posted) at
200 psf!

        Yet the bar grating is attached to the top chords of the joists
using typical "saddle clips" (e.g.,
illustration at upper left), which IMO will not provide adequate bracing
against lateral torsional buckling of the joists under service load.
Further, the bridging provided for the K-joists appears to be the
standard for construction phasing before a solid deck is put down.

        First, am I misinformed about the ability of the bar grating
with only saddle clips to brace the joists? Of course the owner would
say "hey, it's worked this way for several years, never had a single
problem yet! And will want me to put into the new addition exactly what
is already there.

        Second, what would be best: Use K-joists still, but make sure
that the joist supplier puts adequate cross-bridging to assume there is
no lateral torsional buckling problem? Or use wide-flange girders? I'm
tending toward the first option because I could probably quietly slip it
by without the owner's curiosity being piqued.

        Finally, what is my ethical responsibility with regard to the
joist-supported floors which (if my assessment is correct) are not
adequate for the posted load? This place is actually within the city
limits of a small, well-to-do south Texas town that actually has a
building official. Do I need to bring this up to the owner and inform
the building official (thus possibly incurring wrath?)

                This business is a high-profile outfit. I wouldn't be
in fact, if the building official didn't choose to look the other way
even if I did complain.


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