Why it is Essential to do a Theatre Ceiling Check

Now a decade on from the famous ceiling collapse at the Apollo theatre, NDML looks at the issue surrounding ceiling safety and the maintenance of aged buildings.

The Apollo Theatre Roof Collapse

76 people were injured in the collapse and it sparked a move for all historic buildings to have their ceilings reviewed. Many London boroughs have handed out advisory notices to nightlife operators, commanding them to get their historic buildings in order. Investigation showed that the ceiling of the Apollo theatre collapsed because of cloth and plaster deterioration which had been in place since 1901. This style is associated with Victorian or Edwardian theatres and music halls, as well as other Grade II listed buildings.

The Theatre Trust has, more recently, published guidance on how to care and manage hessian, timber and plaster of Paris. Within their information, they explain that water ingress, a poor environment, timber decay and corrosion of iron and steel will have each weakened the supporting structure. They state any historical ceiling may be at risk of collapse if it has not been regularly inspected.

Michael Arney, Director at Artisan Plastercraft, expressed that he is eager to alert building facilities managers about the requirement to regularly inspect and survey the ceilings of public buildings. “If something were to happen a building manager could be prosecuted under the Health & Safety in the Workplace Act 1974. The collapse at the Apollo was a stark reminder – but we are concerned that lessons have not been learned and very little action has been taken over the last 10 years.”

How to get your theatre’s ceiling checked?

Here are all the ways in which your theatre’s ceiling will need to be assessed:

A desktop survey

A desktop survey will help identify records of original construction as well as any previous building defects which may have been identified.

An asbestos survey

Presence of asbestos should be registered. Asbestos surveyors will inspect buildings and collect samples to determined the health risks possibly posed by the insulation. As is instructed by HSE, any non-domestic building built before 2000 should have an asbestos survey in place. This is a duty obliged of the operator under the Control of Asbestos Regulations.

A condition survey

This is an in-person set of measurements enacted by a professional, mainly involving analysis of fibrous panels and defects. The condition of the structure and fixings will be assessed, as will the quality of the decorative surface. This survey will include measured drawings and perhaps 3D laser scanning. The structural engineer may deem that some form of monitoring over time is required, such as crack monitoring.

When should theatres get their ceilings inspected?

The HSE required all theatres in the country to have carried out ceiling inspections by September 2016. This cost the UK theatres an estimated £15 million. Theatres, and indeed all buildings open to the public, should be able to show evidence their ceiling has been completely inspected.

However if this evidence is dated, and your last ceiling inspection was 2016 or earlier, your inspection documents could be well out of date.

The Theatre Trust recommended an inspection every three years – perhaps sooner according to the needs of specific buildings. NDML are keen to remind theatre operators of their responsibilities and protect venues.

We understand that strain on theatres and the whole nightlife industry, and that funds for a full inspection survey would be extremely limited. We suggest a pre-inspection survey may be then followed by several partial baseline surveys, stretching out the cost while still achieving full baseline inspection status.

Here, on page 29, this document from the Theatre Trust outlines the details of a baseline inspection survey, and includes some tasks facilities managers should carry out pre-inspection.

We’ve found guidance, provided by The Finishes and Interiors Sector, on how to establish the competence of inspectors and plasterwork contractors. It includes a competency questionnaire which helps to establish the competency of contractors. Inspection and repair of these complicated ceilings should never be entrusted to inexperienced contractors. There will be serious liability in the event of ceiling collapse and human injury. Having an experienced professional perform any touch ups or repairs is a necessity.

Advice for Theatres from NDML

Theatres are a critical part of our cityscapes and local communities. We want to protect them just as much as nightclubs, bar, pubs and all entertainment venues. Theatres, music halls and concert halls needs to be aware of the risks facing their buildings – which is where we come in.

Having an NDML handler on call, providing that piece of advice whenever you need it, is invaluable. We have saved countless businesses from going down the wrong road, and our in house claims team have seen every situation imaginable in their 25 years.

Contact us today and get the conversation started on how you could improve your building’s risk aversion and security.