Window falls are a gut-wrenching topic because they cause devastating and preventable injuries in children. This hits home for me; in just 9 years of pediatric practice I’ve had a handful of patients fall through open windows and screens. Every single fall has occurred because of innocence and curiosity — a child just wanting to see, or be involved in, something outside. So many of us don’t get our 2nd or 3rd story windows secured for children and we often just don’t expect a child to push through a screen…
Each year in the United States 15 to 20 children under the age of 11 die, and nearly 15,000 are injured, because of falls from windows. A colleague, Dr. Lauren Wilson, is sharing her story, her perspectives while working in the hospital (Harborview Medical Center), and her ideas for preventing injuries as we close out this hot summer in our town deplete of air conditioners. We’ve included some tips on preventing falls in your home below. Don’t wait!
As a pediatrician, I was called four times last week to help care for young children with severe head injuries due to falls from windows.
Each time my pager goes off to mark a potentially devastating injury, I mourn. Not just for the family whose life is changed in that moment, but also for our city’s failure to make basic efforts to prevent these falls. I also know each time I am called that this will not be the last.
Despite reporting on these injuries, children continue to be injured at alarming rates. Since January 1 this year, Harborview Medical Center has treated 42 children with fall-related injuries in the hospital. Dozens of other fall-related injuries are cared for in primary care clinics and emergency departments.
Census statistics show that Seattle is has the second lowest rates of air conditioning of major US cities; just 15.9% of all homes have central air — and only 7.1% of those that are rented. As the weather gets warm, open windows are unavoidable. Window screens, in place to prevent insects from entering homes, are not meant to prevent children from falling out.
However, there are simple preventative measures that work. Removable window locks can be installed to prevent windows from opening more than 4 inches. Window guards can allow windows to open while protecting children (although should be removable by adults for fire egress). Furniture should not be placed near windows; landscaping rather than concrete should be used below windows when possible.
Relying on every young family to research and install guards is not the way to ensure safety. It is time that our city made a structural change to housing codes to make windows less dangerous. New York City enacted a regulation requiring owners of multistory buildings to install window guards in any apartment in which children under 10 reside, resulting in a 96% reduction in admissions to local hospitals for window-fall-related injuries. Although new building codes in Seattle provide for safer balconies in new construction, there is no comprehensive approach to make all multistory dwellings safe for young children. As multistory buildings become more common, this will only become worse.
It’s time we changed that. I don’t want my pager to keep going off, reporting our failure to protect yet another child.
~Lauren S. Wilson, MD, Acting Assistant Professor | University of Washington School of Medicine
Tips For Preventing Window Falls:
1. Install Window Guards and Stops
- Screens are meant to keep things out (BUGS!) not children in. Even if it seems inconvenient, properly install window guards to prevent unintentional window falls.
- Install window guards that adults and older children can easily open in case of emergency. Then follow-up by teaching your older children how to open them and make sure it’s a part of your fire escape plan.
- Use the 4 inch rule: install window stops so that windows open no more than 4 inches. Four inches is about the height of your smartphone…
2. Open Windows From the Top and Close After Use
- If you have windows that can open from both top and bottom, practice only opening just the top to prevent accidental falls. Even on those hot days, opening the bottom will give little ones easier access.
- Keep windows locked and closed when they are not being used.
3. Keep Kids From Climbing Near Windows
- For your more mobile kids who are crawling and climbing, move furniture, bean bags, tables and dresser away from under the windows. No question that kids will climb when we least expect it. Especially if curious about something happening outside…
4. Secure Kids When Seated
- Keep babies and young kids strapped in when using high chairs, infant carriers, swings and strollers.
- If your baby is in a carrier, NEVER set it on a high surface (countertop or other furniture).
See more tips for preventing window falls at: www.safekids.org.
I live on the 6th floor of a mid-rise apartment in North Seattle. My sister and 2 year-old niece moved in with me three years ago. Especially since some of the windows are maybe two feet from the floor to let in all that natural light, I immediately started researching options and codes in Seattle and there was nothing. Are window guards (bars, that swing open for emergencies and cleaning) even legal? Do you have to get permission from the landlord? Do I get charged for the damage upon move out?
To top it off, the front window is over 100 inches–basically three normal windows next to each other. There was no way to avoid putting the couch along that wall (giant inherited couch, small apartment). I eventually found the New York laws and started to feel sane again. The lack of info anywhere else was making me crazy.
I did find a company that did window guards in sizes of that length and plopped down close to $300 for that one and one for their bedroom. We made the other windows inaccessible since buying guards was cost-prohibitive.
My sister installed the first one herself, which took a couple hours and a lot of holes. Our construction-y brother installed the other in 5 minutes with no significant damage. I decided safety was way more important than a security deposit and that asking forgiveness was better than asking for permission to install them.
She’s 5 now and I still would buy them today if she was just moving in. Kids just don’t have a good awareness of those things and we definitely don’t have air conditioning so the windows are often open all summer.
Thank you for raising awareness of this topic. As mid-rises become more common, people need guidance. No one wants to let their kid fall out a window, but to have it happen and realize that easier access to information could have prevented the tragedy is worse. Trash chutes are another issue that I couldn’t find any info on. Should they be locked or not?
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Thanks for contributing this story! I do think it’s defendable to put guards in — and I don’t think the changes should be held against you at move-out re: a deposit. Makes sense to involve the landlord to avoid any conflict.
Trash chutes are an important mention, thank you. Any space that a child could/can crawl into and fall should be secured, no question about it.
Here are some excellent resources to learn about window stop and window guard options for different types of windows: https://www.legacyhealth.org/health-services-and-information/health-services/for-children-a-z/safety-programs/window-safety.aspx (see the practical help section.)
Khryzialyn Ciar says
Toddlers don’t know what they are doing. They use to come closer to things that catch their attention and where their curiosity leads. Parents or whoever is looking after them should be the one who must be careful with the things around especially those that will lead them to danger. Thank you for this post.