July 10 , 2007
Preventing Falls from Windows
Amy Movius MD
I am of the opinion that New England winters give us a special appreciation for summer warmth. Unfortunately, this warmth also heralds a new season for accidental injury from falls, especially in children. Falls are the leading cause of childhood accidental injury and second leading cause of accidental childhood death. The worst injuries occur from falls greater than 2 stories or when a child lands head first on a hard surface like concrete. Not surprisingly, these falls are most common in the summer, when windows are open and children are more likely to be playing on fire escapes, roofs and balconies. Toddlers and adolescents are the most at risk and boys outnumber girls two to one.
Home modifications are very successful in reducing falls. Rail spacing on balconies, desks and porches should be no more than 4 inches in width. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury and Poison Prevention, virtually all children less than 6 yrs can pass through a 6 inch opening, but none older than 1 yr can pass through a 4 inch opening! Codes for construction now mandate 4 inch openings between vertical railings, but older buildings may need retrofitting to make them safe. Playing on fire escapes, roof tops and balconies should be off limits for children of all ages. Rather, encourage play in safe ground level areas such as playgrounds and parks.
Most serious injuries occur from falls out windows. There are several ways to decrease this:
1. First and foremost is supervision, supervision, supervision! As is so often the case in preventing childhood injury, there is no substitute for the oversight of a responsible adult.
2. SCREENS ARE NOT SAFETY DEVICES. They keep bugs out, not children in.
3. Window guards have proven very effective in preventing injuries from falls in children. They MUST be easily removable by an adult or teenager. They also should not be confused with security devices designed to keep people out; window guards are designed to keep people in.
4. Window stops keep windows from opening more than 4 inches and are economical and easy to install.
5. The AAP recommends that window stops or guards be installed on second and higher story windows not intended for exit in case of fire. Your local fire regulations may have additional guidelines for the use of these guard or stops.
6. Landscaping with grass/shrubbery at the base of buildings can soften the impact in the event of a fall.
7. Discourage children from playing on furniture and avoid placing furniture near windows and on balconies.
8. While we’re talking window safety, curtain/blind cords are a significant cause of strangulation in toddlers. Tie curtain pulls or blind cords out of reach and install safety tassels on the ends of pulls or cut the loops to decrease the likelihood of a child getting entangled.
National Safety Council Information
Consumer Product Safety info on purchasing window stops/guards www.cpsc.gov/spscpub/prerel/prhtml00/00126
American Academy of Pediatrics