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4 Limit State Design

At the design stage of a structure, it is not possible to predict accurately the loadings which will act on the structure
during its planned life. Nor is it possible to dene precisely
the behaviour of a structure under these loadings, or to
predict with certainty the strength of the materials which
combine to form the structure. It is necessary, therefore, for
the engineer to introduce factors of safety to be used for any
given load and material. It is necessary to rst dene the
meaning of the word satisfactory when related to the use
of the structure.

condition. It is thus possible to build up an overall, or

global, factor of safety from these individual factors.

Obviously, one criterion for the design of the building

is that it should not fall down, but there are other conditions which need to be examined. The structure should
be readily useable by the occupants, as well as visually
acceptable in the long term as well as the short. It should
not excessively deect or crack, and should be sufciently
durable to maintain its initial condition. There are other criteria which may be applicable to certain structures including, for example, resistance to re, explosion, impact and

Group 1

In the past, there have been two basic methods of applying

a factor of safety to the design of structures. Both methods
have involved the introduction of a single factor to cover all
the uncertainties mentioned above, in order to ensure the
stability and safety of the structure. The rst method, and
the one commonly used in the past, is permissible stress
design. This involves determining the ultimate stresses for
the materials involved, and dividing these by a factor of
safety to arrive at a permissible or working stress. The second is the load-factor method which involves multiplying
the working loads by a factor of safety and using the ultimate stress of the materials.
Both these techniques have their faults. The former is based
on elastic stresses, and is not strictly applicable to plastic
or semi-plastic materials such as masonry. The latter is
applied to loads and does not take into account variations
in materials. Both have the disadvantage of applying one
factor of safety to cover all conditions of materials, loading,
workmanship, and use of structure, thus preventing adjustments where one item is, perhaps, of a higher or lower
standard than normal.
Limit state design is an attempt to consider each item more
closely so as to enable a more accurate factor of safety to be
applied in the design, and depends upon the case being
considered. This is achieved by breaking down the overall
factor of safety used in the design into its various components, and then placing a specic factor known as a
partial factor of safety on that component for a given

The global factor of safety may be divided into two groups:

Group 1

The factor of safety to be applied to the materials

and to the workmanship used in the construction of the structure.
Group 2 The factor of safety to be applied to the loads
in the overall structure and the consequences of

The factor of safety for materials and workmanship will be

based on the probability of the material failing to reach
its expected strength. In reinforced concrete, for example,
there are two basic components. One is steel, which is manufactured in a factory with a high degree of control over its
production, and the probability of an inferior piece of steel
is moderately low. However concrete is made from natural
materials which are mixed together on site, or at a batching
plant, where the degree of control is relatively reduced. In
addition, the placing of the concrete will affect its overall
strength and, since this is done by unskilled or semi-skilled
labour, the degree of control is further reduced.
The materials used in basic structural masonry are: (a) the
structural units which are manufactured from natural clays
or concrete or stone, and (b) mortar which is made up of
cement, sand, water and a plasticiser usually lime. The
quality control of the structural units could be likened to
that of steel, with controlled sampling of the product from
the production line. It is also possible to check the strength
of a randomly selected unit, or group of units, by means of
load tests which will give a reasonable indication of the
strength of the units actually used. This is an advantage
over concrete in that the method of testing concrete is to
manufacture a cube which may not be cured in the same
manner as the actual concrete used on site. Masonry units
are, therefore, products over which there is reasonable control and some limit to the probability of failure.
Mortar presents a different problem. Although it is manufactured from similar materials to concrete, on many sites
there is less control over the mixing of the ingredients,
which is generally done in smaller batches than concrete,
and there is only limited control over the placing of mortar.
Therefore, there is a greater probability of failure. However
on larger sites, where the contractor is able to establish a good
site organisation, and material testing does not become disproportionately expensive, it is possible to exercise a higher
degree of control over the production of masonry. Thus it is

Limit State Design 17

advantageous to vary this partial factor of safety on the
design of brickwork from site to site. It becomes necessary,
therefore, to assess at an early stage the degree of quality
control to be expected on site, and thus the partial factor to
be used.
Group 2
The second group of factors is applied to the loadings to
be used in the design of the structure. These factors are
introduced to take account of inaccuracies in the assumed
design loading, errors in the design of the structure, constructional tolerances and the consequences of failure.
The dead weight of the structure may be determined reasonably accurately, but the superimposed loading is much
more difcult. It is also not possible to predict accurately
the probability of overloading of the superimposed load,
and it is therefore necessary to use a higher factor of safety
for superimposed loading than dead loading.

Example 1
A skip of loose bricks is to be hoisted over a busy shopping
street. The skip weighs 1 kN and can carry approximately
5 kN of bricks, and is to be suspended from a steel rope of
ultimate tensile stress 260 N/mm2. Since the rope is of mild
steel, and to be used in town, it may be assumed that highquality steel is available and the partial factor of safety in
this material may be taken as 1.15. (Reinforced concrete
design to BS 8110 has a factor of safety for steel reinforcement bars of 1.05.)
The skip is to be lled with loose bricks and could easily
be overloaded and, as it passes over a busy shopping
street, the consequences of failure could be serious. The
partial factor of safety on the loading should therefore
be taken as 1.4 of its dead load, which is not likely to be
increased, and 1.8 on the live load which is liable to
increase. Thus:

It is also advantageous to adjust the factors of safety for different combinations of loadings. It is unlikely, for example,
that overloading of the dead, superimposed and wind
loads would all occur simultaneously, and thus the factors
are adjusted for various combinations of loading.

Design loading

The assumptions and theories used in the design of the

structure will not precisely t the way in which the building acts. Similarly, inaccuracies during the construction of
the structure will vary the actual conditions from those
assumed in the design. The consequences of failure of the
structure vary considerably, depending upon the type,
use and location of the building. For example, the effects of
failure of a shopping centre or a grandstand are quite different from those of site temporary works such as shuttering to a concrete beam.

Area of rope

It is thus possible to build up an overall factor of safety from

those in Group 1, which are applied to the materials, and
those from Group 2, which are applied to the loading used
in the design of the structure. However, it is also necessary
to vary safety factors depending upon the condition being
investigated and designed. When checking the ultimate
failure of a structure, it is obviously necessary to use a
higher factor of safety than when checking the deection of
a beam. Thus the partial factors of safety must be adjusted
according to the limit state being considered. The following
examples should illustrate the point. Consider the following two cases: in each case the partial factors of safety are
indicative and not taken from any specic British Standard
Code of Practice.

= (1 1.4) + (5 1.8)
= 10.4 kN

Design steel stress =



= 226 N/mm2

10.4 103
= 46.0 mm2

Example 2
This is a similar problem to Example 1, but with the bricks
in pre-packed units of actual weight 5 kN and passing over
a non-navigable river. High quality steel is not available. So
an increased material factor of safety of 1.5 should be used.
The bricks are in pre-packed units of known weight and
overloading is less probable. In addition, the consequences
of failure are not serious, merely the loss of the bricks. The
partial factor of safety on the loading should be taken as 1.3
on the dead load and 1.5 on the live load. Thus:
Design loading

= (1 1.3) + (5 1.5)
= 8.8 kN

Design steel stress =

Area of rope


= 173 N/mm2

8.8 103
= 51 mm2

The factors used in masonry are explained further in

Chapters 5 and 6.