Focus on Window & Balcony Safety

Published: 7 Oct 2021

THE HSE reports that in the 2020/21 period it was reported that 142 people were killed as a result of an accident at work, 35 of these were due to a fall from height. This means a quarter of fatal injuries at work are a result from a fall from height.

In the news we frequently read about cases of fatal falls from balconies or windows. During the summer of 2021, a 5 year old Afghan boy fell to his death from a hotel window. Investigations are on-going, but if window restrictors were in place this should not have been possible.

It is imperative that as a business you make a precautionary judgement as to the safety of windows and balconies. This is a health and safety obligation and should be facilitated through the completion of a risk assessment.

If windows and balconies are designed in the same way throughout a building then a general assessment may be sufficient identifying potential hazards such as persons or objects falling, evaluating the likelihood of this happening and detailing how controls help reduce it further.

If, however, building design /age means that window styles vary, specific assessments may be required for specific areas.

It can be extremely costly to eliminate the hazard associated with windows and balconies and would require securing openings and major investment in air conditioning equipment. This is generally an unreasonable investment to expect to have to make. A risk assessment, however, with sensible and proportionate controls is not.

It just takes one incident such a fatality to bring the eyes of the media onto your business even if the building integrity is sound and management procedures are in place.

Factors to consider when evaluating risk associated with windows and balconies:- (the list is not exhaustive)

  • The height above ground level of the window / balcony
  • The integrity and condition of the window / balcony fabric
  • The positioning of furniture / planters near windows / balconies which have the effect of lowering the balcony height
  • The level of supervision / management control in the vicinity of the window / balcony
  • The efficacy of a smoking policy (does this give rise to unauthorised smoking in areas that compromise safety?)
  • The nature of the clientele – families, children, students. Behaviour patterns and alcohol / substance abuse
  • Existing levels of signage / information on safe use
  • Maintenance / housekeeping checks and records

Action recommended

  • Complete or review separate risk assessments on the use of windows and (where applicable) balconies
  • The gap between uprights within the design of the balcony should be limited to 100mm
  • It is generally advised that the following standards are observed when applying window restrictions;
    • The restrictions should not allow for a gap larger than 100mm when opened.
    • The fitting should be tamper-proof and have a special key/ device that will prevent the fitting from being opened using readily available tools such as cutlery.
    • Be strong enough to withstand predicted force and to be able to withstand damage whether malicious or from general use.
  • Ensure that there is a method in place for checking that the restrictors are operating effectively. Housekeeping staff should have this on their room servicing checklist
  • Balconies must meet building regulation requirements with a handrail of 1.1m, infill to avoid objects falling and designed to inhibit climbing on horizontal sections
  • These considerations should also apply to patio railings if there is a drop from height on the other side.

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