Balconies Are Not Playpens
Fortunately, this incident did not have a tragic ending. The toddler was uninjured.
In the news story, it notes that the toddler was unsupervised and had climbed a chair. This is in line with most incidents that I have found over the years. While some proponents of codes limiting railing design focused on the design of the guard and the “ladder effect”, the issue in balcony falls is the risk of climbing furniture and lack of supervision.
Kidsafe.org has stated that balconies are a deathtrap for toddlers. They note, Most of these small balconies usually have a combination of table and chairs, which if left against the safety railing can act as a simple set of steps for toddlers. A toddler can easily climb onto a chair and then onto the top of the table, placing them in a very dangerous situation.
I know of a company that specializes in cable railing. One of their people told me the story of going to the home of a potential customer who had a large deck with a beautiful view. While chatting with the young mother who owned the home, he asked how she used her deck area. She noted that she liked to let her children play out there while she was inside doing housework. The cable railing fabricator chose to walk away from the job.
Back in 1999, I was at a code hearing where I mentioned that balcony falls that we were reading about the Consumer Product Safety Commission data were related to climbing the furniture on the balcony — not the guard. A building inspector then got up and stated, “We can’t control the furniture, but we can control you.”
While “ladder effect” wording was eventually removed from the model codes, it remains in various jurisdictions across the country and climbability restrictions are part of the Canadian National Building Code (NBC). Always check with your local authority having jurisdiction to confirm what applies in your area.
Building inspectors cannot keep homeowners from placing furniture and planters on their balconies but this is where the concern should be directed. As such, the homeowner needs to reduce the risks posed by young children on balconies. Don’t let children out on balconies and decks without supervision.