In spite of the best efforts of health officials to educate the public, summer months always seem to bring sad reports of another toddler falling from a window and
suffering serious injury or death. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), “about 12 children 10 years old and younger die each year, and more than 4,000 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for window fall-related injuries.”
Window falls can occur in any home or apartment. Regardless of the location, a window fall places tremendous stress and guilt on parents and caretakers, who through hindsight realize the accident was preventable. The burden of such a catastrophe can be overwhelming.
Perhaps as home inspectors, we can help prevent window fall tragedies by educating our clients about window safety. The ASHI Standards of Practice state “the inspector is not required to report on screening,” but the inspector is “required to examine a representative sample of windows.” I suggest each inspector initiate a “field practice” of explaining window safety guidelines during a home inspection, and including them in the report.
We all know it is impossible to supervise a toddler every second of every day. Therefore, a home should be made “childproof.” Parents routinely install childproof locks on cabinets and safety gates across staircases. Sadly, many parents fail to realize until it is too late that window safety deserves the same attention. ASHI inspectors have a unique opportunity to educate the public during a home inspection regarding the prevention of window falls. As home inspectors, we are in the communication business, and I believe educating the public about safety should be a routine part of every inspection.
A window is part of the building envelope that functions as a source of light, ventilation and emergency egress. A window is also an attractive nuisance to a toddler. Children are curious, they like to climb, and they like to look out of windows. Parents need to understand that window screens are designed to keep bugs out, not to keep children in. Screens used in today’s windows are only secured by a thin rubber gasket, and will easily break when subjected to the weight of a child. Even a fall from a first story window can result in trauma or fatality.
The purpose of window stops and the value of window guards should be explained to the public, as well as the reasons for opening the top of the window for ventilation. Teach your clients that window stops are not solely for burglary prevention, but also to prevent the lower sash from being raised far enough for a toddler to fall out. Explain that purchasing window guards should be included when “childproofing” the home, and that window guards should comply with CPSC guidelines and local fire department and building code requirements.
CPSC publishes the following guidelines for preventing window falls. Consider sharing them with your clients.
• Install window guards to prevent children from falling out of windows. (For windows on the sixth floor and below, install window guards that adults and older children can open easily in case of fire. For windows on the seventh floor and above, permanent window guards can be installed.)
• Guards should be installed in children’s bedrooms, parents’ bedroom, and other rooms where young children spend time.
• Or, install window stops that permit windows to open no more than 4 inches.
• Never depend on screens to keep children from falling out of windows.
• Whenever possible, open windows from the top – not the bottom.
• Keep furniture away from windows, to discourage children from climbing near windows.
For further information, contact your local or state Board of Health or visit the following Web sites: