Is Your Balcony Safe and BCA-Compliant?

9 July 2019
By Jeff

As a property owner, your legal obligations are numerous, however, one of the most important ones involves your structure’s compliance to health and safety standards with specific regard to matters such as access, safety when using items, non-slip flooring in common areas, window compliance and balcony safety – just to name a few.

And in fact, if you fail to ensure compliance, you are potentially exposing yourself to unnecessary costs and legal battles resulting from your oversight/negligence in keeping your building safe for occupancy.

But how do you know that your structure is safe and compliant with the BCA requirements? In this article, we will tackle in detail what you need to do with your apartment balcony to ensure that you are abiding by government-mandated regulations.

The Risks of a Badly Designed Concrete Balcony

In 2015, 28 deaths resulted from people falling from a building or a structure, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. And every year, thousands of children get hospitalised for falls from balconies and windows (in fact there is approximately 50 balconies rated with a high injury severity score (ISS)). Of these falls, 40 injuries happen mostly to children below 15 and from balconies which are less than 3 feet in height. And whilst less reported, a scary fact is incidents of falling have become more prevalent than drowning in the pool or the bath.

Aside from the possibility of bringing a loss of human lives, balconies also create a costly maintenance requirement when considered unsafe for occupancy. When accidents occur, the building is scrutinised – in every way – with all findings made public, thereby discouraging tenants and potential new owners whilst at the same time causing an excessive financial burden to have matters fixed.

So, if you’re worried about your potential compliance, or want to know if there is a need to undertake balcony repair on your strata complex, keep reading, this blog is especially for you.

Ensuring Balcony Safety with BCA Compliance

Under the Building Code of Australia, a platform which is more than 1 metre above ground level must be bordered by a balustrade or railing minimising the chance and severity of a fall. Therefore, for a balcony to be considered safe, railings made either from glass panels, metal or timber bars should be installed around it.

In constructing the barrier for a balcony, landing, or access path, the height must be at least 1 metre above the floor and not immediately climbable from any fixed items (such as benches or ledges). And the balustrade must be designed to take loading forces in accordance with AS/NZS 1170.1.

From a technical construction point of view, the distance between vertical bars should not be more than 12.5cm (a 12.5cm sphere should not be able to pass through) apart to avoid children from slipping through and the design should not include a horizontal or slightly slanted component that will make climbing easy or enticing, especially for children.

If the balcony is more than 4 metres above the surface beneath, any horizontal elements within the balustrade or other barrier between 150 mm and 760 mm above the floor must not facilitate climbing.

Balcony Restoration Considerations

Building Under Construction - Structural Repair - Remedial Building Services

Whilst it has been proven in a court of law numerous times that safety standards for building design, such as the BCA, do not act retrospectively, it is best to check your balconies and balustrades to see if they pass Australian safety standards, especially if you know they pose a significant risk. If it can be proven you were aware of a risk and did nothing to contain it and as a result, someone fell, aside from the guilt, you could be found guilty.

As a tip, you may wish to consider the following as risk items which could confer the need to upgrade your balconies:

  • The presence of young children living in the scheme, increasing the likelihood of potential accidents;
  • Receipt of a building report highlighting there are safety issues with regards a balustrade; or
  • One or various safety incidents caused by a defect in one of the balustrades, indicating to the owner’s corporation that the balustrade is unsafe.

If you discover that they are non-compliant from the time the building was built, it is your responsibility to arrange a rectification project to ensure that BCA standards are followed. Do not wait until an accident happens or one of your tenants complains and reports you to the authorities for having short barriers or sub-standard balustrades.

As a point of note should you (the body corporate) decide to renovate and add improvements to your balcony, it is always good to remember the specifics provided for by the BCA. For instance, should you change the tiles or use bricks on the flooring, thereby elevating the surface more, it is also important for you to make the necessary changes to your railings so as to meet the 1-metre height requirement of the BCA.

You should also consider how you position the decorative elements and furnishings, placing them as far as possible from the edge so as to prevent people, especially children, from climbing them and becoming susceptible to balcony falls.

Working with Remedial Building Services

Whilst we are not bestowing this title on ourselves, when it comes to doing work correctly, it is best to consult balcony repair experts if you want to undertake any successful and long-lasting rectification work. Remember that by working with specialists, you are assured that the project is well planned, the work well managed and that the company (especially in light of all the attention faulty construction in apartments) has Quality assurances in place and stand behind the work they do!

At Remedial, we have 50 years’ experience in the rectification of structural issues and compliance within the BCA and its multiple iterations. If you are lost as to what to do, or if you know that work needs to be done, speak to a Remedial team member today and let’s take the first step in ensuring you get the job done correctly.