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Child Safety - Educate or Legislate?

Monday, 08th April 2013

CHU - Australia’s largest, most experienced strata insurance specialist- was recently invited to a ‘round table’ discussion with other industry professionals and the AMA, on the important topic of child protection; specifically the prevention of children falling from windows within strata buildings.

From January 2013 changes to the Building Code of Australia (BCA) requires new buildings to have locking devices preventing windows being fully opened (inhibitors).  This will affect homes and units in a positive step towards protecting children.

What about older buildings?  The amendments aren’t retrospective!

Views were aligned - if any child falls from a window of any height, it is one too many.  But how do you resolved the problem, given that large numbers of buildings don't meet safety standards?

Ideas included:

Educate – Inform people they’re at risk. Window openings greater than 125mm represent dangers to children who, by nature, explore and climb.  As more people move to apartment living, furniture in rooms will be used by children to climb to windows, with potentially nothing more than a fly screen protecting them from falling.

Legislate – The Home Building Act 1989, BCA, Strata Schemes Management Act 1996 (SSMA) and the idea that State governments consider special purpose legislation were discussed.  In 2006 the NSW government passed special purpose legislation requiring all homes to install smoke alarms - this approach could be used to mandate installation of inhibitors.

Where to from here?

If legislation is introduced, falls from balconies and badly maintained buildings should also be considered.  CHU supports changes to the SSMA that encourage proper inspection of health and safety risks within strata buildings.  A safety report with 'make safe' recommendations reported to Committees and Strata Managers could make a difference.

We acknowledge legislation takes time- in the meantime people and children are at risk.

In the interim CHU would encourage:

Strata Managers –  educate owners, mitigate the risk.  Create a 'safety culture' - after all, owners may be found legally responsible for injuries and damages for foreseeable incidents.

Real Estate Agents – encourage landlords - a $10 window lock is a good investment for the safety of tenants' children.  Given property inspection frequency, it's not unreasonable to take some action to warn landlords about unsafe windows.

Home/Unit Owners – locking devices may be considered unnecessary; you may no longer have children at home.  Statistics show a large percentage of accidents involve visitors.  Windows are common property in most schemes; notify your committee about your interest to make-safe your unit.  This request would be difficult not to support.

Tenants – approach agents/owners, request devices that protect children and visitors from harm.  This type of request is unlikely to be rejected.

In conclusion

Safety legislation is an effective enabler in the long term and is encouraged by CHU.  Legislation needs to be right, properly targeted and applied.  This will unfortunately take time, discussion and lobbying.

While we wait, we educate, starting with you today.  You are now aware of the problem so who can you educate to help save children's lives?  Develop that safety culture now - You can make a difference.

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