The primary regulation setting out window safety requirements is the Building Code of Australia, which is part of the National Construction Code.
The BCA addresses health and safety issues in relation to new buildings including window and balcony concerns and is constantly reviewed and updated to ensure highest standards are followed. Amendments to the Building Code of Australia in 2013 required all new apartments and housing to install child safety devices on openable windows in bedrooms as per class 2 or 3 or 4 and class 9b early childhood centres.
However, the BCA requirements are not generally applied retrospectively to existing buildings and research has shown that many fall incidents occur in older buildings or in tenanted apartments.
To address this issue, the NSW Government made amendments to the Strata Schemes Management Act and the Strata Schemes Management Regulation. The amendments require all residential strata buildings, both old and new, to comply with window safety regulations under Section 30 of the Regulation. In the case of existing buildings, Strata Plans were given 5 years to comply or risk penalties under the Act.
As of 13 March 2018, owners’ corporations for all NSW residential strata plans new and old became responsible for ensuring protection is installed on all common property above ground floor.
Putting the Regulations into Practice
Both the BCA and the Strata Regulation set out technical requirements for each building situation. The BCA states that a barrier or balustrade must be constructed if an openable window is more than four metres above the surface below.
The barrier can be the wall beneath the window sill, a fixed pane, and must be no less than 865mm above the floor beneath the window. Any opening in the barrier must be such that a 125mm sphere is unable to pass through. This measurement is based on the approximate size of a small child’s head.
In the Strata Regulation, there must be restrictions or protection on openable windows where the floor below the window is more than 2m above the surface beneath. The options for providing protection are to have a device which restricts the window opening or a screen, and both options have specific criteria to be met. In the case of restricting the opening, the gap must be such that a 125mm sphere cannot pass through as tested to AS5203-2016. If a screen is installed, it must be able to withstand an outward horizontal force of 250N.
In some situations, it is desirable for the window or screen to be able to be removed or unlocked, for example, to provide an emergency exit. In these situations where a child resistant release mechanism is used, there is an additional requirement for the window to have a barrier below it with a minimum height of 865 mm.
The area below that height must also not allow the 125mm sphere to pass through and have nothing nearby which could facilitate climbing. A common solution to the 865mm barrier height is to install a fixed window below that level.