Safety Considerations for the Construction of High-Rise Buildings

Words by Emily Roberts

Big projects such as the construction of a high-rise building require a lot of planning. One of the aspects that need to be covered during the planning stage is safety, mainly how the high-rise building can provide maximum safety to its occupants.

For high-rise buildings, safety becomes a factor that needs to be managed head-on. There are risks that need to be mitigated before the structure is deemed safe for its occupants. What are the safety considerations for the construction of high-rise buildings? Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Structural Integrity

The structure of a high-rise building must be able to handle a much bigger load than one or two-story houses, so structural integrity becomes an essential factor to get right from the planning stage. Calculations related to the design of the building, its weight-bearing capacity, and the overall load capacity of the structure are usually done multiple times before the project is started.

This is also the reason why high-rise structures use steel reinforcement inside concrete. The addition of steel pilings in the foundations adds strength and load capacity.

The pinnacle @ duxton in Singapore by arch studio features sky gardens on the
26th and 50th storey, of the 7 tower development which serve multiple functions including structural bracing. Read more about he project here.

At the same time, the use of steel pile reinforcement also helps with the building’s fire resistance. Heaton Products is an expert of reinforcement cages and columns for structural integrity. The prefabricated cages are designed to be fire resistant as well. You can consider the steel reinforcement cage here to help provide that integrity to your structure. There is also more information on that page which may help.

For reinforcement, steel cages are usually added before concrete is poured. In some cases, steel bars and beams are added to the exterior of the concrete to introduce extra rigidity. In both cases, the properties of steel piling allow the high-rise building to absorb more ground movement and external force by extending its limit.

Fire Resistance

Every high-rise building needs to be designed and constructed with fire risks in mind. Certain concrete additives, insulation, and interior materials are not used in the construction of high-rise buildings for this reason. Those materials are flammable, and they increase the risk of catastrophic fire in the structure.

Fire resistance is also the reason why modern high-rise buildings are designed as compartments. A thick layer of concrete and steel reinforcement separates each floor so that fire can be contained in each compartment. Some construction projects even go as far as dividing a floor into smaller compartments for better fire control.

To mitigate fire safety risks further, buildings are required to have accessible entrances and exits, along with a capable fire control system. This is also the reason why modern high-rise projects are designed with channels for sprinklers, multiple sources of water, and more fire escapes. The goal of these elements is boosting the building’s ability to withstand fire.

Air Movement

Studies have shown that fire is not the primary cause of death in previous building fire cases. That main cause of death is actually smoke. Occupants are more likely to die of asphyxiation than of fire. This shows another risk that high-rise buildings must mitigate: poor air movement and circulation.

As an added safety layer, many buildings now implement air ventilation systems with rapid-exchange features. The system operates normally under normal load, but a more powerful circulation fan (or fans) kicks in as soon as a fire alarm is triggered.

The Sky Habitat in Singapore by Safdie Architects was designed to maximise ventilation and allow of extensive air movement. Find our more about the project here.

The entire air ventilation system can be designed to keep smoke up and away from occupants in the event of a fire. The same system is also capable of handling additional risks associated with air movement, including the risk of contamination.

For high-rise buildings that exceed a certain height, it may also be necessary to add an air processing unit as part of the HVAC system. The additional system helps maintain a healthy oxygen level and clean the interior air from foreign particles that can be harmful to the occupants.

Evacuation

In a high-rise building, evacuation is a real challenge. There are more occupants across the many floors, so a conventional evacuation route through a single emergency stairway is far from enough. Experts in evacuation procedures now work with architects so that a suitable evacuation flow – and a building layout that supports it – is put in place.

A high-rise building may require multiple stairways and emergency exits positioned in different areas of the building. Depending on the estimated number of occupants and the number of floors the building has, alternative evacuation designs and methods may also be used. There are some interesting evacuation methods to explore as well.

Phased evacuation, for instance, manages the flow of evacuation by evacuating floors in stages. Some designers also reintroduced the idea of elevator evacuation to further push the flow of occupants going out of the building in the event of a disaster.

By covering these basic risks and considering them from the planning stage, a high-rise building project can proceed with safety in mind. The sooner these risks are mitigated and managed, the safer the building will be once it is completed and occupied.