New strata laws in NSW aimed at protecting children falling from windows have come into effect but there are concerns a gap between the regulations and their practical application could leave young children dangerously still at risk.
From 13 March 2018, owners’ corporations for all residential strata plans are responsible for ensuring protection is installed on all common property above ground floor, under changes to the Strata Schemes Management Act and the Strata Schemes Management Amendment (Child Window Safety Devices) Regulation 20131.
While the NSW Department of Fair Trading2 sets out the requirements, it is up to individual strata schemes to decide on how they meet window safety device requirements, there are concerns many are not taking all the necessary information into account.
“We helped campaign for and completely support these law changes, but our concern is that the full information on the correct installation procedures is not readily available”, says Andy Nguyen, Senior Product Designer of KidScreen™ from Alspec.
While the primary regulation prescribing window safety requirements is set out in the Building Code of Australia (BCA), it is Australian Standard AS5203:2016 Protection of openable windows/fall prevention - Test sequence and compliance method3, which sets out the procedures for best practice and testing.
“If those installing devices are not following both the BCA and the Standard, there is no assurance that the installed safety measures will prevent a fall,” says Mr Nguyen.
Most of the promotional literature to date has focused on the two key requirements – the need for a gap of no more than 12.5cm and the ability to withstand a 250N force – but these measurements are only part of the equation. Australian Standard AS5203, which sets out the procedures to check a safety device has been installed appropriately, is not freely available and must be purchased by individuals. This leaves many people assuming they can simply follow the general free guidance, and ignore the requirement for testing.
“There is no common reference where the Code and the Standard come together, and that is what concerns us. Certifiers may overlook the requirements in AS5203 and not be aware of an Australian Standard which standardises the benchmark for testing.” says Mr Nguyen.
If a strata scheme allows owners or uncertified tradespeople to install the measures without following the Australian Standard 5203, they could be creating any number of issues including:
- An incorrectly installed lock could fail under pressure, and the window could give way at a different opening location.
- Drilling holes into window sills to fit a lock may mean the lock could then fail another Australian Standard, AS2047:2014 Windows and external glazed doors in buildings (the standard covering air and water leakage).
- Retrofitted locks may only partly address the issue, for example restricting an opening but neglecting to fit the necessary anti-lift blocks.
- A lack of appropriate fixings correctly installed on a barrier screen or hardware could allow the protection measure to fail.
To ensure protection measures meet the standards and perform as expected, Alspec suggests strata schemes follow these three easy steps:
Step 1: Determine if the building needs to install protection measures.
The Strata Regulation states 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 barrier 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. If a barrier screen is installed, it must be able to withstand an outward horizontal force of 250N.
While a consultant is not required to make the initial assessment, it is recommended Strata plans seek professional assistance if the situation is not clear cut. Guidance can be found in the Strata Schemes Regulation4 and in the Advisory note issued by the Australian Building Codes Board5.
Step 2: Decide on the type of protection.
The main choice is between a window lock and an appropriate barrier window screen. A barrier window screen has the advantage of being permanently in place allowing full ventilation, while a window lock needs to be physically unlocked and relocked and the opening is restricted.
While there are different options available, Alspec’s KidScreen™ is a window product specifically designed to respond to preventing falls and is a cost effective solution for retrofit or new building situations. It is made from either heavily reinforced polyester or stainless steel grade mesh, and has been tested and certified to easily exceed the 250N force standards and satisfy the Australian Standard AS5203 to a range of window systems. The KidScreen™ system meets the National Construction Code and comes with a seven year conditional warranty when installed by a certified licensed installer.
Regardless of which type of protection is installed, Strata schemes must ensure the product has been tested and certified as compliant to AS5203, and this should be checked with the product provider prior to purchase.
Step 3: Engage a suitably qualified person to fit and test the alterations.
If a protection measure is installed by anyone other than a certified licensed installer it is imperative that appropriate tests are undertaken as set out in Australian Standard AS5203. The Standard shows exactly where to test on a window with restricted hardware or screen, how long for and what force needs to be applied, and how the tests should be completed for different types of windows.
While “doing it yourself” might seem like a cheap option for owners, an incorrectly installed device could have fatal consequences. Insisting on a certified licensed installer6 or requiring evidence of testing to the Standard will protect both children’s lives and the Owners’ Corporation’s legal liabilities.
It is up to strata schemes to demonstrate they have or are taking reasonable steps to comply with the new laws. If they don’t, they may find themselves subject to fines and penalties as well as leaving their building occupants at risk.
Don’t wait for an accident to happen to find out your building’s window protection measures aren’t up to standard.