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Birthday Party Hazards, Part 3: Decks, Stairs, and Railings

In previous weeks, we’ve looked at a few of the dangers party hosts may face from decorations and wrapping materials. Today, we’re looking at something a little more subtle, but no less hazardous: defective or dangerous structures within and around the home.

Property owners are liable for hazards on their property, and for damages and injuries caused by those hazardous conditions. This liability often attaches even if the homeowner didn’t know about the danger in advance, particularly where an inspection would have revealed the dangerous or defective condition.

Let’s look at three places where party accidents often happen:

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Damaged or Hazardous Decks and Landings

Summertime parties often take place outdoors, with decks and wooden landings playing a prominent role. Outdoor decking can degrade through the winter months, however, and cracked or rotting boards can lead to serious injuries, either from falling or from slipping through broken decks. This hazard is amplified when children are present, because the smaller size of children’s feet and limbs creates a greater danger. A broken board that might cause an adult to stumble can send a child falling through a deck or trap a child’s slender limb between dangerous jagged edges.

Examine decks and wooden landings carefully before hosting parties, and always repair or replace damaged boards promptly. Putting up signs, or blocking a damaged board with a chair or other object, isn’t sufficient to avoid liability. Young children cannot read signs, and may move warnings or chairs without realizing the danger they create.


Railings, Gates, and Fences

Always check the stability and security of railings, gates and fences before a party. This is doubly important for pool fencing and railings that surround raised decks or drop-offs, because of the more serious injuries (and danger of drowning or falling deaths) that may occur in these areas.

Railings should be secure, and capable of holding the weight of a leaning adult or child. Wobbly railings should be secured or replaced immediately.

Pool fencing and gates should latch automatically and securely. Latches should be locked or raised high enough off the ground to prevent a child from reaching them. Beware! Children may use a nearby chair or stool to reach a latch or open a gate. Ensure that the party area is secure, and that gates to pools or dangerous areas are secured and locked to prevent unwanted access.

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Staircases present a hazard for slipping and falling even without the added activity and distractions of a party. If small children (toddlers and younger) will be present, consider placing baby gates or other child-safety barriers across the top and bottom of staircases to prevent children from climbing and falling during the party.

Check hand railings for safety and security before the party, and be sure that decorations (such as streamers and garlands) do not interfere with use of the railing. Garlands and other ornamentation should never be wrapped around railings.

Careful attention to the condition of household structures, including decks, stairs, and railings, can help prevent dangerous conditions and lessen the risk of serious or fatal injuries during parties. Vigilance, and proper planning, will help keep your party — and your guests — safe and happy.

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