Deck, Deck, Crash!
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Avoid Balcony, Porch and Deck Collapse
Duck, Duck, Splash is an alternative to the traditional children’s game of Duck, Duck Goose. It’s played in the summer months, where a “picker” carries a small bucket of water around players who are sitting in a circle, and splashes the person who will be the goose. It’s fun and exciting for the goose to try to catch the “picker” as that child runs around the circle trying to return and sit where the “goose” had been sitting.
Deck, Deck, Crash is not a game, but a growing summer epidemic and something I hope nobody has to endure. Unfortunately, the 2013 spring break season has already started the annual crisis of tragic deck collapses but there are things that you can do to prevent an accident at your small business. One news outlet, Fox10tv.com, reports that Gulf Shores, Alabama authorities said six spring break vacationers were sent to the hospital after a deck collapsed at a gulf front home on Monday, March 11th.
There have also been other local, and notable, deck collapses in recent years. Here is a sampling:
- 6/11/2012 Manchester, NH: Portable classroom trailers at five city schools were closed after children were injured when a wooden platform attached to a trailer collapsed at one school.
- 5/19/2012 Ashland, NH: Rear deck porch collapse
- 5/2012 Churubusco, IN: Video and report of a collapse at a pre-prom gathering where 12 teenagers tumbled.
- 9/20/2011 Castleton, VT: Seven Castleton State College students were injured when a deck holding revelers collapsed. The Castleton Police Chief said he planned to look into the matter to determine whether a police investigation should be conducted.
- 9/26/2004 Milford, CT: Eight people were injured, including a soon to be bride, when a deck at the back of a house “collapsed like a house of cards.”
- 9/29/2003 Chicago, IL: An overloaded balcony collapsed, killing thirteen people and seriously injuring 57 others.
An outdoor deck and porch injury study by the Consumer Products Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System indicates that in the U.S., 224,000 people were injured from accidents involving decks or porches from 2003 to 2007. Nearly 15% of those injuries resulted from structural failure or collapse.[i] Another study conducted in 2007 by Morse Technologies reported that deck collapses were increasing at an average rate of 21% per year[ii].
A few must watch videos that highlight both what to look for in a faulty deck and solutions to prevent deck collapses include:
- Today Show Segment on Deck Safety(showing a simulated collapse and what warning signs to look for to help prevent deck collapse, in a Consumer Smarts Tips Segment);
- Deck Dangers(KDKA TV reports 50% of decks are ready to fall, or are on their way and provides inspection information); and
- Simpson Strong Tie’s Deck Safety (showing The 5 Warning Signs to look for during an annual deck inspection).
If you have a porch, deck or balcony on a commercial premise that you own or lease, there are certain precautions you can take to avoid a tragic accident. Here’s our Top-8 Loss Control List for deck, porch and balcony collapse prevention:
- Building, condo and apartment house owners should know and clearly post the maximum capacity for balconies and decks.
- Many older porches, decks and balconies were built before codes required them to support a minimum load pounds per square foot, or to have ledger boards with direct structural connections. If you have a deck older than 15 years, have it professionally evaluated, repaired or reinforced.
- Overcrowding and exceeding capacity must be prohibited.
- Inspect Your Deck Once a Year.
- Inspect for missing or rusted nails or fasteners and replace or repair as needed. Was the deck built before 2003, when model building codes began prohibiting nailed-on ledger boards? Ledger boards that are not lag bolted, or through bolted (i.e., you only see nails), need immediate correction.
- Inspect for severe cracks and rotted wood, particularly at connections to the buildings.
- Inspect for proper footings (they should all be in good condition) plus repair any washouts or soil subsidence around footings.
- If there’s horizontal movement, the deck may need cross-bracing to prevent sway.
- Remove or consider the weight of furniture, appliances, wading pools, air conditioning compressors or other heavy items. (NOTE: Other than 1 and 2-family homes, gas or charcoal grills may not be used or kindled on any balcony, under any overhanging portion or within 10 feet of any structure.[iii])
- The North American Deck and Railing Association promotes Deck Safety Month®each May, where you can find a Check Your Deck® Video, a Consumer Checklist and a detailed Deck Evaluation Form right on their website.
- When in doubt, if your deck is over 15 years old, or if you have any questions or concerns, you should contact a qualified inspector. Depending on the type of deck, porch or balcony structure, the construction type of the building, and the premises occupancy, proper inspection may require a local building inspector, building materials dealer[iv], home inspector, engineer, architect or builder[v].
The Manual for the Inspection of Residential Wood Decks and Balconies provides more complete information on the inspection and proper maintenance of wood decks. Simpson Strong-Tie offers a free Deck Framing Connection Guide and information about building a safer, stronger deck.
Many older decks were built before code requirements were in place and have now degraded or weakened over the years. Deck, porch and balcony failures and collapses are avoidable with proper construction and upkeep. As the snow melts, now is the time to ensure your exterior structures are ready to withstand another summer of fun. I wish everyone a safe and enjoyable summer, both at work and at home.
If you need further loss control assistance, throw a couple steaks on the barbie (after inspecting the deck and moving the grill at least 10 feet from the building) and drop me a line. I enjoy mine medium rare. My grandson is now two, so it won’t be long until I’m playing Duck, Duck, Goose again. If you have strategies, suggestions for other games, loss control questions or general comments, please submit them below.
Acadia is pleased to share this material with its customers. Please note, however, that nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services. This material is for general informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness. Distribution of this information does not constitute an assumption by us of your obligations to provide a safe workplace. Maintaining a safe workplace in accordance with all laws is your responsibility. We make no representation or warranty that our activities or recommendations will place you in compliance with law, relieve you of potential liability or ensure your premises or operations are safe. We exercise no control over your premises or operations and have no responsibility or authority to implement loss prevention practices or procedures.
[ii] Safety Alert: Study Reveals Sharp Increase in Deck Failures,by Michael Morse, Brittney Corwin, Robert Morse and Andrew Johnson, Morse Technologies (2007); http://036d44a.netsolhost.com/images/Deck-Collapse-Report.pdf
*Premium dividend potential available as members of the Northeastern Retail Lumber Safety Group.
[v] Acadia is a recognized construction industry insurer, we have relationships with several associations and insurance programs across the Northeast, including a premium dividend potential, for members of the Northern New England Home Builders dividend program.
*Premium dividend potential available.
**Members of the Northern New England Home Builders dividend program