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Limit States
ISO 2394:1998 defines a limit state as a condition at which a structure or
part thereof becomes unfit for its designed or intended use. The
performance criteria defining when a structure becomes unfit for its
intended use is separated into ultimate and serviceability limits states.
Exceedance of these limit states would result in a structure no longer
satisfying its design performance criteria constituting a state of failure.

1.1 Ultimate Limit State

ISO 2394:1998 defines an Ultimate Limit State (ULS) associated with
collapse which generally corresponds to the maximum load carrying
resistance of a structure or structural element. MacGregor (1997) lists the
following as Ultimate Limit States:
a) Loss of equilibrium of a part or the whole structure as a rigid body
(e.g. overturning or sliding).
b) Rupture. A structure or part thereof (member or connection)
reaches its ultimate strength (maximum resistance capacity)
resulting in partial or total collapse. Excessive deformation may lead
to rupture and result in an ULS.
c) The Formation of a Mechanism of a structure or a part thereof.
The yielding of steel reinforcement will result in the formation of a
plastic mechanism of a section leading to structural instability.
d) Instability of a structure or part thereof (e.g. buckling of a column)
e) Progressive collapse. A minor failure at one point in the structure
causes overloading and failure of adjacent members until the whole
structure collapses.
f) Fatigue. When loaded with repeated stress cycles highly stressed
members can fail. The service loads should be used for fatigue
considerations unlike the preceding limits states.
g) A change in assumed structural system, suddenly, to form a new
structural system (e.g. snapping of a section)

1.2 Serviceability Limit State

ISO 2394:1998 defines a Serviceability Limit State (SLS) as corresponding
to conditions beyond which the specified service (i.e. functional use)
requirements for a structure or structural element are no longer met.
Robberts & Marshall (2008) lists the following as Serviceability Limit
a) Excessive deformations, this includes deformations that:
may be visually unacceptable,
may lead to damage of non-structural elements,
may cause machinery or equipment to malfunction, or
result in ponding of water on flexible roof (which may lead to

b) Local damage that affect the appearance, effectiveness or

durability of the structure such as cracking, splitting or spalling.
c) Durability of the structure for the design life of the structure and
exposure conditions.
d) Excessive vibration in building floors, bridges, tall buildings which
cause discomfort to people or affect non-structural elements or
equipment functionality.

Limit States Design

Limit States Design is a structural design methodology that ensures, with a
certain degree of reliability, the performance of a structure is maintained
for its intended use over the structures design working life.
The design approach is aimed at reducing, to an acceptable level, the
probability that a limit state will occur during the design life of a structure.
The probability of an ULS being reached should therefore be small, 1 in 10 6
(Robberts & Marshall, 2008), due to the impact or consequence of
occurrence. The probability of a SLS being reached is typically lower, 1 in
102 (Robberts & Marshall, 2008), as this would result in disruption of the
function of the structure and not collapse.
Limit States Design achieves this by ensuring that the design load effects
(Qd) is less than the design resistance (Rd) through the magnification of Qd
and decreasing Rd. This is summarised in Equation 2-1 (Robberts &
Marshall, 2008) below:

Due to the variability of the components above there is no economical way

of ensuring that a ULS or SLS would never occur and therefore only the
probability of non-occurrence (reliability) is ensured.

2.1 Partial Safety Factors for Materials

As discussed above limit states design reduces the design resistance of
the materials used in the structure through partial safety factors for
materials (

). This is to ensure, with certain degree of reliability, that the

actual material resistance is not exceeded. In choosing


should be given to the unfavourable deviations in the material strength

from the characteristic (specified) values in the structure ISO 2394:1998.
As expected, due to the difference in material properties and behaviour,
there are different partial safety factors for concrete and steel which will
be discussed below.
2.1.1 Partial Safety Factors for Concrete
The strength of the concrete in the structure may be less than that of the
characteristic strength obtained using carefully prepared samples. This is
due to the strong influence on strength that placing, compacting and
curing has on concrete. The concrete strength also has different effects on
different limit states therefore there are different partial safety factors for
different limit states as shown in Table 2-1.
2.1.2 Partial Safety Factors for Steel
Steel as a material is substantially more homogenous than concrete and
as a result the strength is less variable. Its strength is also not greatly
affected by the handling and fixing of it and therefore has a lower partial
safety factor than that of concrete as shown in Table 2-1.
Table 2-1 Partial safety factors for materials


Limit State
Flexure and axial


(SANS 10100-1)







3 References
ISO 2394, 1., 1998. General Prinicples on Reliability of Structures. Geneva:
International Organization for Standardization.
MacGregor, J. G., 1997. Reinforced Concrete: Mechanics and Design. 3rd ed. New
Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Robberts, J. M. & Marshall, V., 2008. Analysis and Design of Concrete Structures.
2nd ed. Midrand: Cement and Concrete Institute.
SANS 10100-1, 2., 2000. The structural use of concrete, SABS 0100, Part 1.
Pretoria: South African Bureau of Standards.