A local damage constitutive model based on Kachanov’s theory is used within a finite element frame and applied to the case of 2D and 3D Timoshenko beam elements. The model takes into account viscous effects, thus allowing damping to be considered in a rigorous way. A damage index based on potential energy criteria, useful in evaluating the behaviour of structures or of parts of structures, is proposed. The procedure is applied to estimate the damage produced by seismic actions in reinforced concrete building structures, whose response is computed by using a non-linear Newmark-type incremental time integration scheme. Three numerical examples are included; one of them compares results obtained by using the proposed model with results of a laboratory test.