Is Your Balcony Dangerous?

The collapse of a balcony in Doncaster East has drawn attention to a potentially growing problem, an engineering expert has warned.

Engineers Australia Victorian president Chris Stoltz said stress on structures attached to houses may be on the rise and he had observed an anecdotal increase in decks being built on new and existing homes.

On Saturday night a balcony collapsed in Doncaster East, claiming the lives of two women and leaving 17 other people injured.

“Maybe this is a wake-up call to do something,” Mr Stoltz said. “There are probably more decks being built than swimming pools.”

He said balcony collapses had also occurred in other locations, including Brisbane.

Mr Stoltz said balcony failures posed a smaller risk to safety than other problems, including flammable cladding on apartment buildings.

However, he said it would be relatively simple for councils to conduct  “desktop audits” among their building inspectors, flagging concerns raised about structural integrity on properties that changed hands.

Mr Stoltz said routine inspections of rental properties could present opportunities to check that structures had been maintained properly. “It wouldn’t be hard for a trained eye to identify decks at risk,” he said.

The balcony collapse prompted a plea from the local council for all property owners to abide by building safety laws and regularly check structures, including balconies and decks.

However, the council would not comment specifically on the Doncaster East incident. The Age is not suggesting that the property owner neglected their responsibilities.

Manningham Council inspected the site on Sunday to assist with the investigation and the report being prepared for the coroner.

A party at the home turned to tragedy when the balcony’s flooring reportedly gave way while about 30 people were gathered on it on Saturday night.

A 59-year-old woman died at the scene and a 37-year-old woman died in hospital on Sunday morning. Seventeen people were injured.

Manningham Council chief executive Warwick Winn urged all home and property owners to ensure they complied with legal requirements for any building works.

“It is important that home and property owners regularly check and maintain their balconies, decks and balustrades,” he said.

8 Balinga Court, Doncaster East from Domain Sale listing. Site of balcony collapse on December 16, 2017.

Municipal Association of Victoria president Mary Lalios said once all permits were obtained it remained the property owners’ responsibility to ensure structures they built were safe.

“There are no ongoing compliance checks, unless a complaint is received,” she said.

Premier Daniel Andrews said he had spoken to officials from his department and there would be a proper investigation.

“Our hearts go out to the families of those two people who have lost their lives,” he said. “This is a terrible incident.”