Aim: The main purpose of this article is to identify sources of uncertainty and outline the basics of a probabilistic approach to determine the reliability of steel structures exposed to a fire. An awareness of unavoidable uncertainty and random, non-deterministic nature of many events and parameters, may be crucial for a proper understanding of structural reliability issues in context of structures exposed to extreme or accidental forces.

Introduction: Human nature has a natural predilection for order, safety and some form of normalization. The design process of engineering structures is accompanied by uncertainty. Both, the loads given in standards and parameters, which determine the load bearing capacity of structural elements, are not deterministic values , but random variables incorporating some specified degree of variation. Design criteria accepted as a standard provision, used for evaluation of durability and deflection of structural elements, reveal sources of uncertainty, which exist in the design process. The more sources of uncertainty, which appear during the design process, the more difficult it is to achieve the expected level of safety and results obtained from simplified procedures and models become less reliable. However, resulting errors should not exceed acceptable limits adopted in design standards.

Methodology: The study highlighted various sources of uncertainty associated with estimating the safety of steel structures, which impact on the credibility of estimated results. A separate description was provided, to deal with selected universal factors, which influence the random load capacity of structures under standard conditions. Significant part of the research work was devoted solely to issues concerned with extreme fire conditions. Doubts were expressed about the probabilistic analytical model, which described the load bearing capacity of structures and the author advanced a proposed alternative model appropriate to temperature conditions generated by fires.

Conclusions: The conclusion provides a range of proposals to various subsections of the paper. Among other things, the author has emphasised that, at this point in time and in the absence of suitable statistical data, it is not possible to conduct a fully credible probabilistic analysis of load bearing capacity of structures in conditions generated by fires. A unique part of the paper contains a proposal for a model to describe reliability of steel structures in conditions of fire, using a random reliability approach incorporating an authorial modification to models used for standard conditions.

Keywords: fire, fire safety, structural element, steel structure, uncertainty, reliability, probability-based analytical approach, probability-based structural analysis, random resistance, random variable, deterministic value

Type of article: original scientific article