Balcony collapse – a potential (unseen?) threat to users of all ages

Unfortunately here in Australia we have had a number of collapses of the family home balcony, and last month the casualty was a 3 month old baby boy who had been cradled in his mother’s arms moments before the fateful fall (http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/central-coast/death-of-baby-in-niagara-park-balcony-collapse-prompts-building-safety-warning/story-fngr8h0p-1226857651952). Such balcony collapses are by no means unique events here in Australia (e.g., http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/balcony-collapse-injures-five-people-at-nowra-in-nsw/story-e6frg6nf-1226743237328;  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-02-28/seven-injured-in-sydney-balcony-collapse/4544180). I know that in my own experience here in Australia, where the summer can be long, hot and humid, and autumn and spring can mean balmy days continue, the balcony is the perfect place to gather family and friends together.

Overloading of balconies, poor maintenance and shoddy workmanship at the time of construction has been suggested as contributing to their collapse, however I would suggest that much of the threat is indeed unseen by the user. I have never inspected a balcony or deck prior to standing on it, and I would not know what I should be looking for if I did try to inspect it. There are numerous tips for home-owners with decks and balconies which have the potential to cause injury if they collapse (e.g., see http://www.archicentre.com.au/publications/archicentre-blog/629-check-the-deck), however as a visitor, I am unlikely to know if the home-owner is aware of these tips, let alone if they have acted upon them.

Recent collapses have sparked a call for tighter rules by the Australian Institute of Architects (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-01/architects-say-up-to-12000-decks-at-risk-of-collapse/5359072). “Up to 12,000 balconies and decks across Australia could be at risk of potentially deadly collapse”.

Gino Andrieri, of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers representing the Diefenbach family (their baby girl died in 2010 after her father’s foot fell through a rotted floorboard in the rented home’s deck), stated “It’s a hidden trap because from the outside there are no significant visual indicators of the danger.” The Queensland coronial recommendations include:

  • Mandatory decks, verandas and balconies inspections;
  • Wood rot and termite activity be considered an emergency repair;
  • Real estate agents must record and act on tenants’ complaints.

In addition, Professor Roy Kimble (Royal Children’s Hospital, Brisbane), recommends decks and balconies be given a maximum load rating.

 

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