Balcony safety rules outlined following child deaths

Inspections are vital to build safety into apartments, especially after the recent spate of child deaths from falls.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Ð Dec 12 : Sultan Abubaker Bushalat , Completion Committee Engineer ( left ) and Ahmed Khalil Abdul Kareem , Principal Safety Engineer , Engineering Supervision Section , Building Department of Dubai Municipality ( right ) during the inspection of Ahli House 2 residential building in Al Nahda 2 area in Dubai. They are  looking at the dimension of one of the balcony in the building. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News. Story by Preeti
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DUBAI // Measuring the height of balcony railings and windows are two of the simple safety checks Ahmed Khalil Kareem takes before approving a new building, but they could easily save a life.

These routine inspections are meant to prevent incidents such as the death of a three-year-old Syrian boy who fell from a 14th-floor window of the Al Manara Building in Sharjah. He was one of at least four children who fell to their deaths in the last six months.

"We have a full committee inspection before a building is ready to be occupied," said Mr Kareem, Dubai Municipality's principal safety engineer.

He recently allowed The National to join him as he inspected every nook and cranny of a new 13-storey high rise in Al Nahda.

Mr Kareem blames parental negligence for the deaths, not engineering errors.

"Accidents happen due to negligence. The municipality does not approve building until all safety standards are met," he said, before he and his team approved the Al Nahda complex, which had balcony balustrades with four horizontal metal railings fitted over a short concrete wall.

This style of balcony balustrading is deemed unsafe by other safety experts and families. Mr Kareem maintained that the 93cm-high railing met the authority's height specification.

Dubai Municipality regulations, which conform to British construction standards, say the minimum height of the railing should be three feet (91.4cm).

Similarly, the apartment's windows are placed three feet high from the floor in accordance with municipality regulations.

Federal laws do not allow builders to install grilles or other additional fixtures on windows. This is done to facilitate easy access for civil defence, in case of an emergency.

"Families and guardians have a big share of responsibility to protect children, said Sultan Abubaker Bushalat, a completion committee engineer from the municipality's buildings department. "Dubai Municipality is trying to be the best with quality and safety," he added.

However, other safety experts said a lack of enforcement of building codes by local authorities was the reason for accidents. They said interior designers should be held accountable for poor designs.

"It is not the absence of standard or codes that is a problem," said an independent health, safety and environment trainer and consultant for the construction industry.

"It is the lack of competence on the part of the local authorities to enforce these codes," he said, adding the emphasis was too often on "architecture and aesthetics of the structure" instead of safety.

Yann Pennes, the project director of Dewan Architects and Engineers, said it was important for families to apply "common sense" and install additional safety fixtures when necessary.

He said his company ensured that balconies were designed without any gaps or steps. "We create only vertical elements or full height balustrades," he said.

Mr Pennes said his firm also installed Plexiglas at times as a childproofing measure. Plexiglass is a transparent, durable sheet that can be fitted along balcony railings for safety.

He said this would help ensure the aesthetics of the building remained intact.

"But whatever safety measures we implement will never replace parental supervision."