Safety Inspections for Outdoor Decks are Necessary


Expertise Includes:

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    • Civil/Site Work Evaluation
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    • Storm Water Control
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The North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) recognizes the month of May as Deck Safety Month®. This is the time of the year to get serious and take the necessary steps to safeguard your deck so that it is enjoyable not only for your family, but your friends and any visitors. The NADRA has a deck safety program and they just released a video in an effort to save lives and prevent injuries and to protect your family and friends.

Below, and in no particular order, are a few of the more common items to check on to ensure your deck is ready to enjoy, safely as well as some case examples of not having a safe outdoor deck.

1.    Ledger Board, Posts, Joists and Decking
Check the ledger board where the deck attaches to the house to make sure the board is sound and fasteners are properly in place. This is a more common source of major deck failure. The remaining items posts, joists and decking have a tendency to be damp or regularly exposed to the weather and in contact with fasteners and should be checked for the presence of soft, spongy or decayed materials including any insect infestation.

2.    Flashing
Check to make sure the flashing is sound and firmly in place. Flashing is the material that protects and directs water and debris out and away from the house. This is where the ledger board attaches to the house. You may want to consider adding or replacing this item if water is found to be collecting in this area.

3.    Fasteners
Check for loose, corroded or missing fasteners such as nails, screws, bolts or anchors. Tighten, add to or replace any fastener that falls under these conditions. For those fasteners that are rusted, it will be required to remove and replace immediately so as not to cause further damage to wood supporting members. (Special Note: The ledger board shall not be fastened with only nails. Lag bolts or through bolt fasteners with proper washers is recommended and in most code references required.)

Case Studies:
A quick and painful way down?
A prospective renter was touring a third floor commercial office rental property on the coast of SC. In this process the real estate broker opened the door and invited him to step out onto the small balcony.  As the prospective renter walked toward the edge, the balcony suddenly gave way and fell 30 feet with him onboard to the sidewalk below. The prospective renter suffered serious multiple injuries. Forensic investigation found multiple issues that lead to this tragic incident. Some causes were incorrect and inadequate fasteners, poor quality flashing that lead to corrosion for the fasteners provided, and a balcony design that could have been more robust.


Smile before it is too late?
It was decided to take a group photo of US veterans celebrating at a 50 year reunion party at a popular coastal seaside restaurant. The photo was being staged by a photographer on a very wide and scenic set of stairs on the first story porch of this antebellum style building. As 50 plus veterans crowded onto the 5 step staircase, it suddenly fell without warning. Many veterans were injured several seriously. Subsequent forensic investigation found that the staircase had been only face nailed into the porch. In addition, the ordinary untreated steel fasteners were badly corroded from exposure to the salty environment.

4.    Railing, Banisters and Stairs
Check the security of all railings, banisters and stairs (risers and treads) to assure they are sturdy and do not sway. Also check these items for safety concerns so children (pets included) cannot easily slip through the vertical openings which by code is required to be no more than 4 inches in width. As for the height which is another code requirement, check to make sure the railings and banisters are at least 36 inches high and preferably 42 inches in height. For additional safety reasons that can lead to accidental trips and falls, do not install or place items like toys, plants and décor on the stairs.

Case Study:
A wave hello and a sad wave goodbye!
A young female college student rented a room in an older home with a beautiful porch surrounding the front section of the two story house. Shortly after moving in she saw some friends walking down the street and leaned out over the front porch rail to wave when it gave way and she fell off the side striking her head, resulting in a tragic brain injury. No one had inspected these railings in many years and the wood was rotted in several critical places.

5.    Lighting and Electrical
Check to make sure all lighting fixtures, electrical outlets and appliances including extension cords are up to code, functioning properly, operable, and located where they will not cause a tripping hazard. For added safety it is recommended that you childproof if children are present and waterproof these items.

6.    Grills, Fire Pits, Chimneys, Heaters and Candles
These items have the potential to cause dangers associated with an outdoor wood deck. In their use to create a warm and cozy atmosphere, they must be continuously monitored and checked or they could become a hazard. It is essential that all users of these conveniences practice caution and follow the manufacturer’s strict written instructions for safe operations. Never place units near flammable liquids or materials and always protect the surfaces where these items are placed with non-flammable mats.

Case study:
Suburban outdoor barbecue?
A homeowner places his gas grill on his wooden deck up against his house. The house has vinyl siding. After lighting the grill he went inside to prepare the meat to be cooked. He usually would let his grill heat up for 15 minutes before cooking. A neighbor reported seeing the vinyl siding burning and then the deck engulfed. By time the fire department had arrived half the house and all the deck had been heavily damaged. Forensic investigation determined the grill had been placed too close to combustibles and that it is not a good idea to leave a grill running unattended for very long.


These are just a few of the more common safety related precautions to follow when checking your deck for the upcoming summer season. Protect your family, friend and your assets and take a proactive stance when it comes to deck safety. A complete consumer checklist can be found by going to the NADRA website at

Allan Abbata is a senior consulting engineer at Warren and a licensed professional engineer in South Carolina, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Missouri, Texas, Alabama, Maryland, Minnesota and Virginia. Allan holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. He has more than 40 years of applied engineering expertise to include in-depth knowledge of building codes, rules and regulations that guide design. Allan has also prepared construction drawings and specifications, provided on-site supervision and inspection of construction projects, and. has overseen project management and responsibility for overall performance of building contracts while also serving as the client’s liaison with local, state and federal agencies and municipalities.

Co-Authored by Steve Hunt
J. Steven Hunt, CPCU, ARM, is president and senior safety consultant at Warren. Steve, who specializes in premises liability incidents, construction falls and safety management programs, has achieved the designation of Associate Risk Management and Chartered Property and Liability Underwriter from Insurance Institute of America, Chicago, IL. Steve has investigated more than 1,000 accidents in his more than 35-year career, including 33 cases involving fatalities. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Administrative Management with a Minor in Occupational Safety and Health from Clemson University.

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