Experts from the Australian balustrade industry will discuss a host of safety, code and compliance issues at an emergency forum in Melbourne on November 27.

Organised by the Australasian Balustrade Association, the forum titled ‘Close to the Edge: Balustrades - Complexity, Codes and Casualties’ will discuss the industry's future in matters of safety, building codes, certification and Building Information Modelling (BIM), with the aim of restoring confidence and certainty to an industry rife with complexities and technological challenges.

Delegates from the metal, glass and wood balustrade businesses as well as developers, architects, designers, surveyors and engineers from around the country are expected to participate in the event.

Organisers are calling for those in the construction industry who are responsible for balustrade safety, to register and become involved in developing future solutions.

Speakers include Dr Ignatius Calderone, who is a specialist in the field of wind effects on building glass. A consultant to a variety of companies, Dr Calderone is Chairman of Standards Australia Committee BD007, Glazing and Fixing of Glass, and a delegate on ISO Technical Committee TC160.

Several presentations and interactive panel sessions will feature expert insights on materials, fittings, certification, training, AS1288, State regulations and the Building Code, NCC compliance, international perspectives, and mandatory building information modelling (BIM) provisions.

Balustrade safety crisis

Alarming reports of balustrade failure in the media have brought current safety standards into the spotlight, necessitating the industry to come together as a single national body to resolve problems.

The crisis of confidence in Australia's balustrade safety standards, certification and regulation prompted the industry to hold a forum a year ago to develop a plan of action on safety. This led to the establishment of the Australian Balustrade Association (ABA) earlier this year. The Association has been proactive in lobbying for better industry training, the revision of outdated safety standards, a review of appropriate timber, metal and glass materials and fittings, and a clearer single national compliance strategy.

In the most recent balustrade failure incidents, glass panels have been shattering on the balconies of luxury apartments in South Perth.

A Pinnacle Apartments panel fell 18 storeys onto the Charles Street footpath below, narrowly missing pedestrians. However, residents have been barred from using their balconies, leaving them frustrated.

In another instance, a glass balcony suddenly shattered at Epic Apartments in Southbank, Melbourne, sending fragments to the footpath 30 floors below.

Meanwhile, the 298-unit Otto Rosebery apartment complex in Sydney issued a safety letter, in which residents were told not to lean on the balconies, let children play on them or let more than three people on at any one time.

The Australian Balustrade Association has warned that balcony problems like these are just 'the tip of the iceberg'.

According to ABA Executive Manager, Patrizia Torelli, many in the balustrade industry fear that without change, there may be major injury or loss of life due to balustrades of insufficient height or strength, inappropriate materials and inadequate fittings.

“Many in the industry won't let their children run out onto a balcony when on holidays, because they know the risk. Summer holidays aren't far away, and most parents would be shocked to discover that balustrade safety is often a secondary consideration, after costs and building aesthetics. We believe there may be literally hundreds of new and old buildings with unsafe balconies and balustrades nationwide. As the responsible industry body, we are seeking a review of current balcony standards, certification and training, in particular. We need everyone involved in balustrade safety to participate in solving current problems, and putting the construction industry on a safe and confident path for the future.”

Professional Engineer and Standards expert, Phillip Davies will be speaking at the 'Close to the Edge' Forum on 27 November. Describing the current AS1288 2006 'Glass in Buildings, Selection and Installation' standard as outdated and inadequate even when it was introduced 13 years ago, Davies says that Australia is way behind countries such as New Zealand and the United States, where glass balustrade standards have been updated to fit with changes in glass balustrade technology, especially given the popularity of frameless glass balustrades.

A national safety survey conducted by the ABA earlier this year saw more than 40 leading balustrade companies cite problems such as use of inappropriate materials, inadequate fittings, and unskilled and uncertified operators.

There were also reports that building safety certification was frequently issued before balustrades were specified and fitted.

Anyone interested in attending the November 27 conference, Close to the Edge: Balustrades - Complexity, Codes and Casualties, can find further details on the ABA website or visit the event page.

The Conference will be held at the Lilydale Lakeside Conference Centre in Victoria on 27 November 2019.