Balustrade and Railing Height Regulations
One of the most common searches on this site is in regards to the legal heights of balcony railings and balustrades. The main query we receive is whether existing railing needs to be modified to meet the current building code if it was built prior to the current code and met relevant requirements in place at the time of construction.
If you manage a Hotel, Resort, Office Building or Apartment Building then this RISK MANAGEMENT CHECKLIST may be useful to you
NB: the following relates only to properties in Australia.
That is both a simple and difficult question to answer. The simple answer is NO, as there is currently no retrospective requirement unless significant modifications are made. Many Insurance Companies, Councils and other Authorities will confirm this. Many Lawyers will agree and there does not appear to have been any successful court cases to suggest this isn’t so.
BUT we believe that the day will come when there is a successful claim made against the owner of a historically compliant balustrade, even against the owner of a currently compliant balustrade . The difficult answer is therefore “MAYBE”. Our opinion is that Building Codes and Standards are a MINIMUM requirement and there is an overriding legal obligation to fully assess the risk and go above and beyond minimum standards if required. For example, if furniture and other items are situated near the railing and children frequent the area then a 1m high balustrade is not adequate. Have a look at the balustrade near shopping centre food courts that overlook an atrium. These were raised some years ago after children fell by climbing on chairs and tables. An older, lower balustrade near an area where large crowds congregate (and/or drink alcohol) should be subject to some serious risk assessment. See our information sheet from our Public Liability Website
The main point is to: PROPERLY ASSESS THE RISK AND IMPLEMENT APPROPRIATE CONTROLS. Replacing or modifying older balustrades may not be immediately possible or financially viable so alternative or interim controls may be better than nothing ie move items or high risk activities away from the balustrade or put warning signs on access doors to hotel balconies etc.
What are the current BCA requirements for balustrades?
The current BCA requirements are that a balcony balustrade have the following attributes: –
The top of the railing must be least 1 metre (1000mm) from the ground.
Any opening must not allow a 125mm sphere (ie childs head) to pass through. So the vertical components must not be more than 125mm apart.
The gap between the balcony surface to the bottom rail must be no more than 100mm.
For balconies with a fall height of more than 4m there must not be any horizontal or near horizontal elements between 150mm and 760mm above the floor that facilitate climbing.
NSW Dept of Fair Trading recently released their deck and balcony safety guidelines. Download here: Deck_and_balcony_safety_guide.pdf (1903 downloads)