Balconies and decks
When looking at a property with an existing balcony or deck, deterioration or substandard work may not be easily spotted. If you rent or about to buy a property, be aware the property owners may not even know how or when it was constructed. Unsafe balconies and decks are a hazard and can place family, friends, employees and visitors at risk of death or serious injury.
We recommend property owners should make enquiries with the local council to see if the balcony or deck has been built as part of the house or as a later project and whether building approvals are in place.
If a balcony or deck collapses, it can result in severe if not fatal injuries. The Queensland Government reported 20 deaths and hundreds of injuries between 2002 and 2012 link to falls from or collapses of balconies and decks . Some of these deaths and injuries may have been prevented if homeowners were more aware of the dangers associated with elevated areas and the importance of adequate maintenance.
Balconies, decks, balustrades and handrails constructed today must comply with the National Construction Code (NCC), which provides the current requirements for new building work throughout Australia. An existing building, however, is only required to meet the standards in force at the time the building was erected. Likewise, additions to the building only need to meet the standards in place at the time building approval was sought for the addition.
In a number of recent balcony collapses, the original work had been carried out as far back as the 1960s. The structures in question had not been routinely inspected or maintained, and where required reinforced or upgraded.
Statistics from pre-purchase inspection agencies suggest approximately six per cent of Australian houses have a timber balcony or deck and about two per cent (12,000) of these may cause potentially fatal injuries if they collapsed or if the balustrade or railing failed. Some of these balconies or decks may have been constructed inadequately or illegally or may have deteriorated over time and could now be in danger of collapse.
Current laws require landlords to ensure all aspects of the premises comply with laws relating to buildings, health and safety. In Western Australian landlords have a responsibility to notify their tenants about safe swimming pool and spa-pool barriers and blinds and curtains with loose cords or chains.
Check the deck
When selling or renting out a property with an existing balustrade, balcony or raised deck obtain a building inspection on the property. The report should be prepared by a suitably qualified person such as a structural engineer, registered builder and or licenced pest inspector; if you own a building with a balcony or deck it should have regular (bi annual) maintenance whether it is made from timber, metal, concrete or another material.
- ensure it is inspected carefully for decaying timbers, unstable balustrades, corrosion and cracking of concrete;
- do not overload the balcony (large pots, heavy furniture or too many people may make a balcony or deck unsafe);
- failure to maintain the deck may affect your insurance;
- know your home – try to find out when was your balcony or deck built and for what purpose.
There are a number of safety precautions to help ensure kids are safe around balustrades, decks and balconies. These include:
- ensure there are no climbable elements on the balustrades kids can grip to help them climb;
- place all outdoor furniture and other climbable objects well away from balustrades;
- ensure furniture and other climbable objects are difficult to move, for example, using bulky furniture;
- install high locks or latches and self-closing devices to secure doors leading to decks or balconies;
- install security screens and safety-grade glass to protect window openings; and
- avoid leaving loose furniture on balconies associated with high-rise buildings, that can be picked up in a storm and dropped on other properties or people below.
This brochure will assist owners with the safety aspects of balconies, decks and other external structures which may be of a sufficient height above ground level to put family members and friends at risk, in the event of a collapse or other structural fault.
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