When it comes to residents’ safety within a condominium community, it’s the tragedies such as pool drownings, fires and floods that make headlines. But the real villains – measured by the number of actual accidents – are the subtle flaws around the condo that literally “trip people up” and result in all sorts of injuries.
So what are the real dangers, and what more can property managers and trustees do to improve safety in their communities?
Topping the list, says Walt Williamsen, owner of Condominium Consulting Services of Torrington, Connecticut, “are tripping hazards.” Walkways, stairs and their surface conditions – wherever people tread –probably cause more tripping and falling incidents than anything else, he notes. “Defective sidewalks are a major issue… when they have heaved or separated, caused by tree roots or water infiltration with freezing and thawing. Potholes can form in pavement where people walk. Then there’s ice when water pools from lack of efficient drainage.”
Williamsen’s company inspects client properties on a regular schedule, specifically looking for hazards – or potential hazards. While building codes in most states incorporate safety into their specifications, many older residential projects pre-date codes and it’s up to association directors or managers to retro-fit. As an example, states Williamsen, “Older buildings may not have rails on stoops or entry stairways. Even when railings are in place, are the balusters no more than four inches apart?” Building codes are strict, he adds, “and require that stair treads be evenly spaced –both the height and width of each step. Over time, I have seen even concrete steps decay, crack and shift.” When it comes to stairs, minor variations and flaws that are barely noticeable can trip people up, he adds.
Decks “Coming of Age”
Just as stairs and rails need scrutiny, many decks installed 30-plus years ago at townhouse communities are now “coming of age.” Williamsen reports that “decks are a major issue now because structurally, they can be decayed… At a community recently we had to put yellow [police] tape around a deck outside one unit because it was so dangerous.” The specifications for deck construction have evolved considerably since the earliest designs that used untreated [rot-prone] lumber, which was often simply nailed to the sides of homes. Most of these older decks have been replaced with much sturdier, safer materials –and if they haven’t, they should be, he adds.