Shade Sails (fabric) Support Structure Collapse

Document Type: Alert
Keycode: web only
Industry: Education Sector, Local Government, 
Category: Building and Structure Design, 
Division Author: Public Sector & Community Services
Publication Date: 03 April 2007
Date First Published: 03 April 2007
Summary: This alert notifies employers, designers and installers on the dangers of installing shade sails, without site specific design and maintenance considerations.


The purpose of this document is to alert employers, designers and installers on the dangers of installing these types of structures, without site specific design and maintenance considerations.


WorkSafe is aware of at least two incidents in the last 6 months where the structures intended to support shade sails located in school grounds have had major structural failures.  Although no-one was injured in either of these incidents, both had the potential for serious injuries or death.


Shade Sails are often erected in children’s play areas on school premises, playgrounds and public parks.  It is essential to ensure that these structures are built to meet the relevant Australian standards so as to withstand likely forces that may act on them.

Shade sails are not heavy structures and are usually supported by independent poles or by framed structures that act as portals.  They are strongly affected by wind loads and require secure connections at the base of the supporting structures to sustain the momentum imparted by lateral wind forces.

Since wind loads can act in compression, suction or in cyclic sequence, shade sail structures can be subject to fatigue, which may affect both welded and bolted connections of the supporting structures.  Accordingly, in addition to ensuring a site specific design and installation by a competent person, they also require frequent inspections and monitoring of their structural condition.

The Building Commission advise the following:

  • Generally all shade sail structures will require a building permit.
  • However, Schedule 8 of the Building Regulations 2006 describes certain buildings and building work that are exempt from the requirement to obtain a building permit and occupancy permit.
  • Either a municipal building surveyor or private building surveyor can provide advice about whether a proposed building or structure, such as a shade sail, is exempt from the requirement to obtain a building permit.
  • Where a building surveyor provides verbal advice to a builder that a permit is not required, the builder should request that advice in writing.
  • The building permit process ensures that a thorough check of engineering principles has been done, along with mandatory inspections being undertaken during construction, to ensure on-site design compliance is achieved.  Refer to Part 12 of the Building Regulations 2006.


WorkSafe Victoria recommends that:

  • soil tests to determine the nature of the soil on the subject site should be obtained for each structure.
  • all site specific designs should be checked and certified by a suitably qualified and registered civil engineer.
  • inspections by a competent person[1] should occur during construction.
  • the structure should be ‘signed-off’ on completion by a competent person.
  • a monitoring system should be implemented by a competent person to ensure that the structure is maintained in a safe condition throughout its life.

Legislative Requirement

Part 3 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 stipulates that a duty of care must be exercised by employers, designers, suppliers and installers in relation to health and safety.


[1]A competent person is a person who, by their training or experience, has the skills & knowledge to carry out the task they are to undertake. 

Acts and Regulations

Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004:

Building Regulations 2006:

Acts and regulations are available from Information Victoria on 1300 366 356 or to order online: 

If you only want to view the legislation you can use the Parliament of Victoria web site:, click on “Victorian Law Today” and scroll down to the “Search” window.

Further information

Note: This material has been prepared using the best information available to WorkSafe Victoria. Any information about legislative obligations or responsibilities included in this material is only applicable to the circumstances described in the material. You should always check the legislation referred to in this material and make your own judgement about what action you may need to take to ensure you have complied with the law. Accordingly, the Victorian WorkCover Authority extends no warranties as to the suitability of the information for your specific circumstances.


Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.

Health and Safety Alert – Awning collapse.