Guidance on non-structural building elements

  • Nick Smith
Building and Housing

Advice to the building industry on restraining ceilings, ducting and other non-structural elements will improve the safety and resilience of commercial buildings during earthquakes, Building and Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) today released two practice advisories to the building sector on non-structural elements and secondary structural elements in commercial buildings.

“Structural failures in buildings pose the greatest risk to people’s lives but elements such as ceiling panels and ducting can injure people and cause death. These failures are a major component of the post-earthquake repair cost and can significantly disrupt businesses and their staff while repairs take place.

“We are seeing too many examples of ceiling panels, ducting and features such as hanging sculptures failing in the Christchurch, Seddon and now Kaikoura earthquakes. Often these features are added after the building has had its Code Compliance Certificate issued, without sufficient thought to the  risks they pose in a seismic event. Particular care needs to be taken with those additions which are sufficiently large to cause an injury or death.

“The guidance is a clear reminder to architects, engineers, contractors, building owners and councils of their responsibilities under the Building Act, that they must make sure the risk of collapse of non-structural elements is low. The various players need to take a well-planned approach to make sure the design is co-ordinated and building elements are appropriately restrained.”

The guidance on secondary structural elements, such as precast panels and stairs, emphasises design requirements to ensure those elements perform in an earthquake. MBIE regularly issues and updates guidance on best practice in building design and construction.

“There is a heightened risk of aftershocks in central New Zealand and it would be timely for people to make sure items such as filing cabinets are adequately restrained. Too many people were injured in commercial buildings by falling cabinets, storage racks and computer screens during the Christchurch earthquakes. Just as people should be making sure large items of furniture or televisions at home are secured, employers should take care to restrain office furniture,” Dr Smith says.

The practice advisories can be seen at: and