Weapons of Mass Destruction


One solution to reduce the vulnerability of your house is to have your foreman properly trained.  I now offer a training course that will lead to participants receiving the Diploma of Walbrent College.  See article on  Walbrent College for further details.

Regards, Grenville


President Bush is looking for weapons of mass destruction.  He need not look too far.  Anyone who has visited a construction site in Barbados would have seen them – you just have to know what to look for.

Observe this fellow as he proudly demonstrates how he is ensuring that the multi-storey building will collapse like a ‘house of cards’ during the first major earthquake, probably killing everyone inside.

The minimum safe bending radius for British Standard steel is 3 times the diameter of the bar for bars up to 20 mm.  Therefore, for the 12 mm diameter bar above, the bending radius should have been a minimum of 36 mm.

The problem is that the fellow is only using part of the bar bending equipment – the part that holds the bar in place.  The round former is missing.

Question: What bending radius is typically used in Barbados?  The answer: 3 mm.  No, I did not omit an integer.  The round former is rarely used.  3 mm is completely unsafe and will almost certainly fracture the bar, rendering the anchorage component utterly useless during an earthquake.

The next question is: how much more will it cost for the builder to bend the bar around a safe radius?  The answer: $0.00.  That is correct.  It will cost him absolutely nothing.

Bu..bu..but what about the extra time?

OK.  How much extra time will be spent bending the bar around the safe radius?  The answer: not one additional second!  That is correct.  It will not cost any more money, nor will he spend any more time.  You did not ask, but, it will not take any greater effort either.  Actually, it will be easier for the fellow to bend the bar around the safe radius than the unsafe one.

Why then are builders ensuring that our children will perish in school buildings, and parents will perish in office and public buildings during a major earthquake?  That answer is simple.  They simply do not know that they are building death traps.

Aw, c’mon now.  It’s not that bad.  You’re just exaggerating and being sensational.

Oh.  I am sorry.  Let me reconsider my response, refine my answer, and tone down my delivery.

Two Chinese men try to calm a man, center, as he cries over the death of his daughter near a school damaged following Monday’s powerful earthquake in Hanwang town in Sichuan province, China, Wednesday, May 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Parents cry over the body of their daughter killed in the rubbles of a junior high school building destroyed by Monday’s magnitude 7.9 earthquake in Dujiangyan, southwest China’s Sichuan Province Wednesday, May 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

A woman cries over the body of her daughter at the collapsed Xiang’e Middle School at the earthquake site in Dujiangyan of southwest China’s Sichuan province Tuesday , May 13, 2008.  (AP Photo/Color China Photo)

A Chinese man mourns as rescuer covers a dead student near a school damaged following Monday’s powerful 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Hanwang town in Sichuan province, China, Wednesday, May 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

A woman mourns over the body of a student at the collapsed Juyuan Middle School at the earthquake site in Dujiangyan of southwest China’s Sichuan province Tuesday, May 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Color China Photo)

A Chinese man mourns the death of a student near the site of a school that collapsed in Juyuan, southwestern China’s Sichuan province, Tuesday, May 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A mother collapses after identifying the body of her child discovered from the debris of a primary school in Hongbai town in Shifang in southwest China’s Sichuan province Thursday May 15, 2008. (AP Photo)

These photos are disturbing, but they are real, and I wept as I inserted each of them.  China’s violently enforced one-child policy must increase the parents’ feelings of hopeless despair to immeasurable levels.  May they know the comfort that only God can provide.

The fractured reinforcement will be useless in a major earthquake, and all multistorey buildings that rely on them are expected to collapse during a major earthquake.

Why is our Government allowing builders to build death traps in Barbados?  Why is our Government allowing builders to build without having to comply with any building standards?

The only reason that I can come up with is that they are not looking in the right place when they jet off to China, where reportedly approximately 6,900 schools collapsed on thousands of students and their teachers during the recent earthquake.  I cannot be persuaded that our Government can see these images and allow the out-of-control building industry to continue in Barbados for one more day.

Over A Decade of Sorry Excuses

The building code is being revised.

That does not stop you from asking builders to comply with the existing Barbados National Building Code which was published in 1993.

We need to have national consultations on the revised Building Code.

That does not stop you from asking builders to comply with the existing Barbados National Building Code which was published in 1993.

The Building Authority is not set up yet.

That does not stop you from asking builders to comply with the existing Barbados National Building Code which was published in 1993.

The builders know what to do.

The inexperienced builders do not know that they do not know.  However, you know, but do not seem to care.  Why is that?

You Engineers are just being self serving and want more work for yourselves.

Generally, all of the technical advice normally offered by Architects, Planners, and Civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical Engineers are contained within the Barbados National Building Code.  Therefore, homeowners do not need to hire an Engineer for this advice.

We need to draft some more legislation.

No you do not!  Why are you so afraid of asking builders to build properly?  Good grief!



Related Article: Construction in China

11 responses to “Weapons of Mass Destruction

  1. Pingback: Shoddy Construction In Barbados: When Does Negligence Become Criminal Manslaughter? « Barbados Free Press

  2. Keith Headley

    Thank you Grenville. What do you think of these pre-fab homes?


    Thanks again.

    Hi Keith:

    Assuming that the 140 mph rating is in accordance with ASCE 7, then that is a low end Hurricane Category 3 (HC3) of the Saffir-Simpson scale. That is the same or marginally better than what you would achieve if you complied with the minimum provisions of the building code (or built the worst house that the Code will allow).

    If they plan to sell these buildings in the Caribbean region, then they should be offering buildings that can withstand at least 160 mph winds, which is the upper end of the HC3 scale.

    The other concern is the exposed steel. Exposed steel corrodes relatively quickly in the Caribbean due to the windborne sea spray. The steel should therefore be protected from corrosion assuming coastal environmental conditions.


  3. Hi Grenville,
    Please drop me a line with you email.
    I am planning to build a home within the next few months and I would like to pick your brain.

    Keep up the good work

    Hi Darwin:

    You may be surprised at how many people would benefit from our one-on-one discussions. Therefore, it may be more beneficial if you posted your question, (hypothetical questions are also welcome) and allow me to respond so that others may benefit.


  4. Very good information that makes a lot of sense.

    First question is: who is training/certifying our builders/contractors, and why are the bad/worst practice situations allowed to be perpetuated.

    Is it a case of the blind leading the blind? Or is it that in Barbados the only people we care to certify, train and re-train are the traditional high-profile professionals (lawyers, doctors, engineers, accountants etc.) None of these persons bends steel, lays bricks etc. for our buildings!!!

    You get a job on a construction site by your say-so, and somebody shows you what to do. Then suddenly you are a professional builder, and not too much later a con-tractor.

    2nd question: Can we assume that our imported Chinese builders are also perpetuating bad building practice learnt in China?

    Hi Curious:

    Let me respond to your questions in the order that they appeared.

    1. Some artisans are educated at the SJPP. However, regardless of what they learn there, during the on-the-job training, they adopt the short-cuts or sub-standard building practises of those more experienced. There is no certification of builders, and in my opinion, there does not need to be.

    On construction sites where the quality of structural work is certified by a structural Engineer, the contractor or builder is not normally paid until the work is performed to a specified standard. It is not uncommon for builders to have to demolish and rebuild their work in order that is can be certified. This type of environment ensures that Contractors have competent persons employed if they want their business to survive.

    Where the quality of structural work is certified by persons who do not understand what they are certifying, then they normally assume that the quality of the structural work is acceptable, and the builder gets paid. In this environment, the builders have no incentive to build properly or to improve their sub-standard building practises. This is the current residential construction environment in Barbados.

    The solution is for competent inspectors to certify structural work. They can be employed by the Planning department, and/or the mortgage institutions.

    2. Yes; however, that is the subject of another article.


  5. "L" for Learning

    Interesting reading Grenville and quite educational.
    What is your opinion on building with panels as described in the web site below? I am certain thaat I have seen a home being built with panels similar to those on the web page here in Barbados.

    Hi L:

    The Tridipanel system seems promising. However, you should note the findings of the independent testing agency, which include:

    “The Tridipanel system complies with the 1997 Uniform Building Code subject to the following conditions. .. The plans, specifications, and structural calculations are submitted to the building official for approval. .. Structural evaluation in this report is limited to an evaluation of panel strength only.”

    If you plan to use this system, then you should obtain a warrantee from the manufacturer and installer, specifying the magnitide of wind and earthquake forces that the building can survive. This information would normally be included in the structural calculations.


  6. "L" for Learning

    thanks for the advice.

    Hi L:

    You are welcome.


  7. "L" for Learning

    I need an opinion for using wire mesh for the floor of a single story home. Is A142 adequate for the ground floor or is A 252 required??

    Hi L:

    The BNBC Section 2.507 specifies the proceedure for building concrete slabs on ground. The minimum wire mesh fabric is A252 (Section 2.507.4ci) which should be placed between 20 mm and 40 mm from the top. However, this does assume that you have a well compacted base on rock. Remember to include an effective vapour barrier under the slab, otherwise you will likely have to pay large sums to fix the resulting structural and health problems.

    Since I must protect myself, I must state that I am not giving you any advice here whatsoever, since I have neither seen the plans of your house, nor received information on your loading requirements, or inspected your foundations. My advice to you would be to exceed the minimum building standards in the Building Code and to seek the advice of a Registered Engineer.


  8. Pingback: The Worst House that the Code Will Allow « Weighed in the Balance

  9. Pingback: Advice for Home Owners « Weighed in the Balance

  10. thank you so much for your all your informations, I learned so much and I am more aware of what I have to expect, and what I can avoid. I would ask you to give me an advice in my case: we want to build a one-storey house, around 1300 sqft, no contractor, just a very good and experienced mason and his crew. I am still looking for an engineer who will check my plans. (I am afraid my english and my skills in construction are not sufficient to understand the barbados building code); I thought, I would like the engineer to inspect building process, too. Do you think this is a good idea? Can you tell me, what kind of inspection, how often, etc. would make sense? And, does he have to calculate every single bar or can he just give me the necessary measurements, according to the building code? Will the advice and the inspection be very expensive? I just want to be prepared. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge
    best regards

  11. Hi Patricia:

    Sorry about this delayed response. I was in Haiti and Dominica for 6 weeks, and reliable Internet access was not always available.

    A mason experienced in poor construction practices is of no benefit to you. You should ensure that the mason is contractually obligated to build to a specified construction standard. In Barbados, the minimum standards are contained in our Building code.

    If you do not think that you can hold the mason contractor accountable, then you may retain an engineer to check that he is complying with his contractual obligations. Perhaps 5 site inspections may be required, and an Engineer may charge between BD$200 to BD$400 per hour – depending on their experience.


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