8 Jun 2017

More should be done to keep shoppers safe in quakes - Countdown

7:47 am on 8 June 2017

Building regulations aimed at keeping staff and shoppers safe from falling objects in an earthquake are being routinely ignored, a major supermarket chain says.

200214. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Countdown logo

Photo: RNZ

All 185 Countdown stores, and about 60 franchise stores such as SuperValue are being checked and retrofitted with seismic restraints on heavy items like ducts and air conditioning units.

Countdown national construction manager Simon Scott said 2016 health and safety laws, enacted in response to the Pike River mine disaster, were a game-changer and meant all employers should be taking immediate action to retrofit buildings to keep their staff safe.

When he went looking, he said, he found many of Countdown's stores were not up to standard, even though councils had signed them off as compliant.

"There's a lot of work that's required particularly on older stores.

"It's really come about as a failure on the part of design personnel, contractors, and indeed councils, in the application of what is largely existing [building] code provisions.

"There is plenty of regulation but I think it's a little bit misdirected ... the Code is there, the Code states what is required, but it's not implemented properly."

The Insurance Council and seismic engineers also said most buildings did not comply with standards.

The council's insurance manager, John Lucas, said the issue was missed in earthquake-prone legislation due to be enacted next month.

Nick Hill, chief executive of the Building Officials Institute, conceded building consents were routinely issued without councils seeing any seismic bracing design.

But he said councils were focusing on this issue more closely now.

Countdown is one third of the way through the work on its stores nationwide, typically costing $100,000-$200,000 per refit.

It has focused first on the high-risk quake areas of Christchurch, Wellington and Hawke's Bay. For its new stores, it has required structural engineers to design restraints for the past three years.

The other major supermarket chain, Foodstuffs, said it relied on independent registered engineers and believed its stores met building standards.

All its South Island stores were checked after the 2011 Christchurch quake and fixed where needed, and new builds and refurbishments since then had been up to standard, it said in a statement.

However it will be carrying out checks of its stores so it can have "absolute certainty" the ceilings and services in them are safe in an earthquake.

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