'Accident waiting to happen': councils warned on awnings

The NSW Planning Department has urged councils to beef up inspections of awnings hanging over public spaces, four years after a father was crushed to death while sheltering from a storm.

The department has issued a draft directive to councils instructing them to establish a program, or review existing programs, to monitor awnings as they age and identify safety issues.

The move follows a coroner's inquiry into the death of property valuer Craig Taylor, 53, in December 2007.

Mr Taylor was standing outside a Balgowlah pharmacy during torrential rain and wind when an awning and brick façade fell and crushed him.

In 2010, deputy state coroner Hugh Dillon found the incident was not a freak occurrence, but “an accident waiting to happen”, citing evidence of a “widespread occurrence of awning failure” across NSW.

His report cited 16 awning collapses in NSW, including one in Bathurst in 1998 which killed one person and left another severely injured.

Shop awnings were historically supported by poles, but are now commonly held up by rods and cantilevers.

Wind, rain, misuse and a lack of maintenance can cause awnings to fail, especially in older inner-city suburbs and seaside areas affected by salt corrosion.

The Director-General of Planning, Sam Haddad, said some councils had initiated safety programs after the coroner's findings “but we need to ensure a consistent approach is achieved across NSW”.

The department has told councils to write to buildings owners with awnings over public land, alerting them to the dangers of awning collapses.

Owners of awnings more than 10 years old should be urged to have them inspected regularly by a professional engineer for structural adequacy. The inspection results, and any action, should be communicated to the council, the department says. The recommendations are on public exhibition until December 19.

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