Children and Window Safety Consultation Paper

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1 Children and Window Safety Consultation Paper Submission from SP Barry Street Kentwood Neutral Bay NSW 2089 Date: April 20, 2013 Item 4 Proposals Mandatory window safety devices on windows in strata buildings 1. Is the proposed threshold for determining if a window poses a safety risk to young children (a maximum drop of two metres from the interior floor level to external ground level) appropriate? Please give reasons. A two metre fall can be sufficient to cause serious injury to a child. The National Construction Code requires balustrading around platforms located more than one metre above the ground. It is recommended that the threshold for a window be reduced to one metre above external ground level. 2. Could a window that does not meet the above threshold (e.g. ground floor) still pose a safety risk to young children? If yes, could you please indicate the circumstances where this may be the case. A safety risk could occur if the ground beneath the window slopes steeply towards a sudden drop. 3. Are the proposed performance standards (which state what outcome a window safety device has to achieve to be compliant) sufficiently clear? Proposed performance standards appear to be sufficiently clear. 4. What types of window safety devices do you consider to be most effective? 1. Devices that permanently limit the window opening are effective. Such devices however also limit capacity for ventilation and maybe unsuitable for non airconditioned domestic properties. 2. Devices which allow windows to be locked in position when required to limit the opening size, but could be opened wider at other times would allow greater versatility. These however rely on the occupant controlling the opening size, hence are less safe. Page 1

2 3. External screens of sufficient strength that are permanently fixed in position would be most effective as they provide protection regardless of the size of the opening. Neither the original purpose of the window, i.e. ventilation, nor safety, would be compromised. A means of childproof emergency release (not a keyed lock) would be required for the screen. However, screens will neither be suitable, nor practical, for all types of windows in all buildings. Exemptions for safety and environmental factors Openable windows in residential buildings, particularly one and two-storey buildings, can be used as escape routes in the event of a fire or other emergency. In some cities in the United States there are older apartment buildings with fire escapes that are accessed through above ground floor windows. In New York City, the use of window guards is mandatory, but exceptions are made for windows leading to fire escapes and window guards must be left off one window in each ground-floor apartment so that the window can be used as an emergency exit. We are not aware of whether any residential strata buildings in NSW have this type of fire escape. There may also be other amenity or environmental factors that need to be addressed in the amending legislation. 5. Do you know of any strata buildings in NSW that provide residents access to fire escapes through windows that are above ground level? None known to members of EC of Owners Corporation SP Are there any other safety and environmental factors that need to be accounted for in possible exemptions? Mandatory fitting of screens or other devices to affected windows will mean no exemptions need to be made. Emergency escape can still be effected by breaking the glass or releasing the screen if necessary. 7. Could high windows or windows in rooms other than bedrooms, such as a bathroom window located close to the ceiling, pose any safety risk to young children? If not, should they be excluded? Windows located at sufficient height above the floor do not require additional protection. e.g. Height could be set at 1.5m to cater for possibility of a child standing on a chair. Page 2

3 Automatic right to install safety devices In order to provide greater flexibility and a more streamlined process, individual strata owners could be permitted to take direct action to address window safety for their own unit. This would mean that lot owners in schemes which do not have the model by-law referred to above would be able to install window safety devices immediately, without the need for any action by their owners corporation. This measure would overcome any need to wait for the owners corporation to make the necessary changes. Procedural guidance may be required to ensure that individual owners inform the owners corporation of their intention to install the safety devices, and also to confirm when the installation has been completed. If the above proposal is implemented, the owners corporation would need to keep records of the units that have installed the window safety devices so to avoid duplication of costs and uncertainty regarding building compliance. 8. Do you support lot owners having the automatic right to install window safety devices in their lot, regardless of whether their scheme has adopted the model by law on this topic? Please give reasons. Lot owners should not only have the right to install safety devices, but should have the responsibility for doing so. This obligation should extend to single family dwellings - safety cannot be limited to multiple unit dwellings. 9. Are there any practical problems with this proposal? Please give details. Practical problems will exist in the enforcement of the regulations. An opportunity for enforcement will be available as part of the inspection process when property changes hands. An alternative would be an enforced safety inspection of all properties, for example every five years. The safety inspection would include not just window protection but other devices such as smoke alarms, though cost of such an inspection may make it impractical to implement. Residential tenancy condition report The Residential Tenancies Act 2010 provides a way for parents with young children living in rented properties to ensure that the windows are safe. Landlords cannot unreasonably refuse to give permission to tenants to make minor modifications to premises, such as installing child safety window devices. Awareness of window safety for residential rental premises could be improved by including window safety devices in the prescribed condition report for the premises. This report must be completed by landlords and tenants at the beginning of a tenancy agreement. Listing window safety items in the prescribed condition report (and therefore having to indicate in the report whether or not working window safety devices are installed) will draw the attention of landlords and tenants to the need to consider whether these should be installed. Page 3

4 This will be implemented by a minor amendment to the Residential Tenancies Regulation This proposal will not impose any material costs on landlords or tenants and is expected to be uncontentious. This proposal would be subject to a reasonable transition period to allow landlords and their agents to use up existing printed stocks of tenancy condition reports. 10. Do you support condition reports having to state whether or not a premises has working window safety devices installed? Please give reasons. Status of window safety devices should be part of a property condition report, together with other safety devices. 11. Are there any practical problems with this proposal? Please give details. Some types of windows, e.g. hopper and casement types, will not lend themselves to fitting screens. In these cases, a different method such as locks will be required to limit opening size. Implementation period We propose that the new requirements for installation of window safety devices be introduced through a five-year implementation period. This is to give sufficient time for affected buildings to become fully compliant. First of all, owners corporations will need time to determine whether they are captured by the new requirements and to identify which windows will need safety devices. Owners corporations will need to hold general meetings where owners can consider and vote on available options. It may also take some time for a strata scheme to raise the funds to pay for the window renovations and to arrange for the necessary work to be carried out. Sanctions and remedies The proposed amendments to the Act will place an obligation on owners corporations to ensure all windows that pose a safety risk to young children are fitted with appropriate safety devices. Owners corporations that do not install window safety devices risk being held legally liable should injury occur because they have not complied with the law. Claims under some insurance policies may be denied in these circumstances, which may prompt owners corporations to act quickly and install the window safety devices. There are already other legal obligations in the Act where an owners corporation can face penalties for non-compliance with the law. For example, penalties can be imposed if the owners corporation fails to comply with its requirements in relation to fire safety inspections. Page 4

5 12. What (if any) sanctions should apply to owners corporations that fail to ensure all relevant windows in their strata scheme have window safety devices installed? The opinion of the EC of the Owners Corporation of SP13050 is that fitting and maintenance of window safety devices should be the responsibility of the property owner, irrespective of the type of property title (e.g. torrens, strata, company). The requirement could become part of the National Construction Code. 5 Feedback process and next steps The Government is also undertaking a comprehensive review of NSW strata and community title laws, which is due to be finalised in However, given the urgent safety concerns, it has been decided to amend the Act to improve window safety sooner rather than later. Any comments that are provided in relation to this issue will also be considered during the comprehensive strata and community title law review. Please provide your written submission by 24 April 2013 to: Submitted on behalf of the Executive Committee SP Barry Street, Neutral Bay NSW 2089 Robyn Scott, Secretary Tel: Mob: Page 5

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