Whose Problem is it?
Safe Kids Worldwide reports that an average of 8 children ages 5 and under die and 3,300 others suffer severe injury each year. These children may have interaction with first responders (fire, police, ambulance), family physicians, urgent and critical care facilities, or emergency departments at hospitals. Even child welfare workers might encounter situations where children have fallen from windows. It is imperative that professionals at every level prepare themselves with information to guide families in creating a safer home environment for young children, preferably before the fall event.
Why are young children at risk?
Children age 5 and under have small bodies and large heads. Because of this, a situation where their head can exert leverage over their body can contribute to a fall. If they are looking out a window or in an elevated position, like climbing on a piece of furniture near a window, the child can lose their balance and fall in a way from which they cannot recover.
Young children are also at a point of physical development where their strength and dexterity are such that they can be protected by devices that combine strength and dexterity to operate. Examples are child resistant medication containers or child resistant lighters. It should be noted that any child-resistant device is only child-resistant, not child-proof.
Young children also lack the intellectual development to understand cause and effect. In other words, telling them that climbing on furniture near a window or leaning against a screen will lead to a fall, that may lead to injury or death, are not effective arguments to discourage their behavior. They simply cannot link together the kind of thinking that moves from one dangerous outcome to the next, to the next.
And perhaps most importantly, if a young child without the understanding of cause and effect and lacking the strength to perform escape actions were to attempt an emergency escape from an upper level window (such as during a fire in the home), it is quite likely they would fall and suffer injury or death in a failed escape attempt. As always, the safety of young children, especially in the event of a fire, is largely in the hands of the supervising adult. An understanding of this fundamental concept (and how working smoke alarms will provide early warning of a fire) should explain why children protected by window safety devices are not at elevated risk for entrapment during a fire.
With these regulatory elements in place, and evidence that child home window falls needlessly take lives and cause injury each year, solutions can be formulated. Yet to date, consistent prevention strategies and understanding by property managers and emergency responders is limited. By understanding the background issues leading to child window falls, and the code development that is intended to facilitate solutions, housing of any type should be able to be equipped with the appropriate safety measures to protect young children from injuries and death related to window falls.
Pediatricians can provide a key connection between child window fall prevention and families with young children. Well child care includes home safety. Families have a moving target of home safety as their children grow and develop. Reminders are important as they enter each threshold of hazards for the child's age. To aid in this, a special flier for pediatricians has been developed. Please print and distribute at every opportunity. To access the flier, click HERE.
Your Own Educational Resource
Stop At 4"s parent advocate, Becca Cunningham, has written and published a children's book called "If Kids Could Float." This book is available for purchase (see the Window Safety Products page) as individual books. If you are interested in printing this book in bulk for your own agency or business distribution, please contact Becca at firstname.lastname@example.org. It can be custom printed with your logo printed on the back of each copy.
Codes and Jurisdiction
Local codes vary on window safety. In many cases, the only codes that apply are for new construction. Yet families in homes built prior to window safety codes, or those in areas that do not address this issue, may find themselves with unsafe windows for young children. Two code/standard documents are particularly applicable to this topic. They are the International Residential Code and the ASTM Standard F2090.
In 2003, the International Residential Code (IRC) (3) stated under Section 310 - Emergency Escape and Rescue Openings, the need to have both escape and rescue functions maintained in sleeping rooms of residential living units. The 2006 IRC (4) would add the language related to escape to say openings shall be operational from inside the room without use of keys, tools, or special knowledge. In Section 613, it went on to describe the size and construction of Exterior Doors and Windows to include the height above the floor on the inside, and height above grade on the outside as factors for safety. It also makes the first reference to window guards, and the need for any window guards to be compliant with ASTM Standard F2090. IRC 2009 (5) expands further on window design and prevention methods and continues to reference ASTM F2090 for details on window guards and window safety devices.
ASTM Standard F2090-10 (6) addresses the following key topics (and many others):
Window Fall Prevention Screens and Fall Prevention Window Guard Devices
Window Opening Control Devices
Window Fall Prevention Screens, Fall Prevention Window Guards, and Factory Applied/installed Window Opening Control Devices
Window Opening Control Devices Designed For Aftermarket Applications
Performance Testing (of devices)
The ASTM Standard F2090-10 provides guidelines for each method of window fall prevention and is intended to provide the needed support to the IRC to help create safe windows in residential housing.
It is important to note that the creation of ASTM Standard F2090 was driven by the 1991 CPSC study that identifies children aged 5 and under as the most at-risk children for window falls. In relation to fire and life safety and the emergency escape expectations within the standard, children aged 5 and under cannot be expected to self-escape from an upper floor window in the event of a fire. The national fire service operates under the expectation and operational reality that children of that age would require a search and rescue operation at a fire event.
See For Yourself...
The following video was produced by Stop At 4 and the Longview (Washington) Fire Department. It provides insight into the problem of child window falls, the different prevention strategies, and the operational implications on a fire department and their search and rescue obligations at a fire.
Portland (Oregon) Fire & Rescue firefighter Jason Cunningham found his own child to be a victim of a window fall. Jason provided this video as a training tool for helping educate firefighters about the child window falls.
Child Window Fall Prevention Tip Sheet - Click HERE
Child Window Fall White Paper - Read this detailed document containing the connections of child window fall prevention to the codes and standards designed to ensure appropriate devices and technology. Click HERE
Professional Endorsements of Safety - Professionals who have explored the issue of child window fall prevention realize there is no conflict between safeguarding a window for children and maintaining that same window as a means of emergency access for firefighters or a route of emergency escape for residents. To visit our page offering professional endorsements.