The following information is of a general nature and not intended to be relied upon to suit the specific circumstances of your building. You should seek the advice of a professional safety advisor who is familiar with the various window safety regulations and not rely on this document for specific advice. These regulations may vary from State to State and may be updated from time to time. Regular inspections by a qualified Window Safety expert will ensure that you are kept up to date with the compliance issues surrounding this important matter
Openable windows in Apartments 4 metres or more above the ground:
Several recent incidents on the Gold Coast and Sydney have brought the issue of open windows on upper floors in high-rise and low-rise buildings, and the fall risk they can pose, into focus. It is important that building owners and managers understand the risks involved, the fundamental legal requirements, and how to fulfil their general safety duties.
The risk posed by open windows in high-rise buildings is that a person may fall from a great height, and on the face of it is similar to the risk posed by balcony balustrades. Open windows are particularly hazardous for children, however. In an apartment, children will often play in their bedroom. The major concern is that, because these bedrooms are often smaller in size and contain more than one bed, furniture will end up being placed underneath openable windows. Children inevitably climb or jump on the furniture, bringing them dangerously close to open or openable windows and close to a potentially fatal fall. Furniture under windows has been found to be a contributory factor in nearly all of the 23 reported child-falls from high-rise buildings in the last five years, including the death in mid-October of three-year-old Iman Akter Mostafa, in Sydney.
Legal obligations: the Building Code of Australia and building regulations
Since the Building Code of Australia (BCA), was adopted (between 1990 and 1992, depending on the State), section D2.16 has required an 865mm high balustrade or barrier (such as the wall up to the window frame) below any open able window where a person could fall more than 4m. Prior to this, State building regulations generally required any elevated area (including windows) to be protected by barriers ranging from 900mm to 1000mm high. This is a basic construction requirement, which all buildings should already comply with.
Importantly, it is not permitted to reduce the effective height of this barrier by placing furniture or other objects beneath the window. If furniture must be placed next to an open able window, a balustrade must be installed to 865mm above the height of the furniture.
Example: In an apartment, the wall beneath an open able window is 865mm high. A bed is placed beneath the window. The bed is 600mm high. This has reduced the effective height of the wall to only 265mm. There are two options:
A. The bed must be moved well clear of the window; (presumably 865mm away) or
B. A balustrade must be installed across the window at a height of not less than 1465mm, bringing the effective height of the balustrade plus wall to 865mm.
It is still not common for children to live in high-rise buildings in Australia, however, and so the risks outlined above are, unfortunately, not well handled by the BCA and other building and planning laws. As such, we strongly recommend that owners and managers go beyond the basic legal requirements in this area.
Safety: a risk-management approach:
The best way to prevent injuries and deaths from falls from openable windows is by adopting a risk-management approach and restricting how far a window can be opened, preventing even a child from falling. Sealing the window entirely is not necessary.
Professor Danny Cass, Director of Trauma at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, and a leading advocate in the area, recommends a “10:10:10” approach – spending $10 and 10 minutes to attach a lock or similar device that will prevent a window opening wider than 10cm, which is less than the width of a child’s head. This is also consistent with the requirements for balustrade construction in buildings, which require a 12.5cm sphere not be able to pass between the individual balusters.
It is also worth noting that, at times, serviced apartments are workplaces for the purposes of workplace and occupational health and safety regimes. As such, a full risk assessment will need to be carried out on the apartments, and a risk-management approach adopted.
The risk of children and other people falling from windows in high-rise buildings is all too real. Owners and managers of high-rise buildings must ensure that any open able windows on upper stories have a barrier with an effective height of at least 865mm underneath them, and we strongly recommend installing a lock or similar device to prevent the window opening wider than 10cm.