Child falls from windows continues to be a worldwide epidemic
Mark Meshulam is an expert witness for cases of child falls from windows and a window safety consultant.
As long as there is gravity and windows it is sadly inevitable that there will be people falling from windows, resulting in injury or death. Unfortunately, most who suffer these window fall accidents are children, and most of these child falls from windows could have been prevented.
A number of studies have delved into the statistics regarding child falls from windows. This study, published in September 2011 in Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, took a new and unique tack. It is a study entitled, “Pediatric Injuries Attributable to Falls From Windows in the United States in 1990-2008” by Vaughn A. Harris, Lynne M. Rochette and Gary A. Smith.
The authors accessed a wealth of data provided by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), a service of the CSPC, the Consumer Product Safety Commission. NEISS uses data from about 100 hospital emergency departments and extrapolates their results to represent activity at 6100 similar hospitals.
These data are publicly available. You can query the NEISS system for free. NEISS even publishes a coding manual that helps the user inputting search criteria for injuries associated with consumer products such as windows.
Broad range of data
The authors analyzed the output from their search by tabulating data for years 1990 through 2008. In this data they searched for and analyzed descriptive language filed in the accident reports. They obtained the normally available data fields such as gender, age, treatment level and injury type. Then they teased out additional data, such as height of window fall, status of the window, presence of a screen, involvement of nearby furniture and even the landing surface. The study generated a surprising amount of data.
Product codes used in study
These are the window fall related NEISS product codes studied: Windows (1894), storm windows (1826), window glass (1870), window sills (1870), window blinds (1828), shades or shutters (0638), window screens (1828), plastic window panels (1854), window barriers (1888), and window locks (0707).
Results of child window fall study
During the 19 year study period, about 98,400 children were treated in US hospital emergency departments for injuries related to falls from windows.
Mortality rates for child falls from windows
.2%, or 197 children, an average of over 10 children per year, died of their window fall injuries. The fatality statistic is unrealistically low because children who fall from windows and die immediately were not taken to emergency departments and therefore were not counted. The true number could be many times that which was reported. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission stated they knew of 120 child window fall related deaths to 1990-2000, which averages to about 11 per year.
Three quarters of those children injured in falls from windows were treated and released. One quarter of children who fell from windows became inpatients.
Worst ages for child falls from windows
Injuries increase with the temperature. Incidence of window fall injuries spiked for ages 2-5, then tapered to a lower level through age 17. Age two has especially high injury rates, giving new meaning to the phrase the “terrible twos”.
Gender and child falls from windows
Boys represented 58% of the injured by falls from windows. Thirty eight percent of these injured kids displayed risky behavior such as climbing out of or jumping from a window.
Window height and injury seriousness
31% of the children fell from a one-story window. 63% fell from a window on the second story. The remaining 6% fell from windows three-stories or higher. Understandably, this last group had a higher percentage of fractures or death as a result of the fall.
Insect screens and child falls from windows
83% of the windows had a window screen in place before the fall. The authors state that “Parents and other child caregivers should be counseled not to depend on window screens to prevent children from falling out of windows. To prevent these falls, window guards or window locks that prevent the window from opening greater than 4 inches should be used.”
Window type and falls from windows
Adjacent furniture and child falls from windows
4% of window falls involved adjacent furniture that raised the child closer to the window. This number is also low due to low availability of data. Only 5% of the cases had information on this topic. However if you extrapolate the numbers, you could justify a percentage as high as 80% where child falls from windows involved adjacent furniture or other items they could step upon.
Landing surface and child window fall injuries
There was only information regarding the landing surface in 24% of the child window fall occurrences. Of these, 40% landed on hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt, 43% landed on firm surfaces such as dirt, and 16% landed on soft surfaces such as bushes. Those who landed on hard surfaces were more likely to sustain head injuries. The authors state, “In a window fall, the 2 factors that determine the amount of energy transferred to a child’s body on impact with the landing surface are the height of the fall and the energy-absorbing capacity of the surface. Therefore, window fall prevention efforts also should consider the properties of the surfaces below windows.”
Public awareness of child falls from windows
The rates of child falls from windows were much higher before 1996. There may have been a positive effect of public awareness and local programs such as “Kids Can’t Fly”, which promoted the use of window guards to prevent child falls from windows.
Window limit stops are critical
The authors conclude: “Prevention measures for young children should aim to prevent window falls by reducing the child’s opportunity to exit the window, through the use of devices such as window guards or window locks and through placement of furniture away from windows, to decrease access to windows by young children.”
European study of child falls from windows
The 2006 article “The silent epidemic of falls from buildings: analysis of risk factors”, by Lena Mayer, Martin Meuli, Ulrich Lips and Bernhard Frey studied seven years of emergency department activity at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich. Their results, which include falls from windows and balconies, will have a familiar ring:
Fifteen children (49%) climbed on a piece of furniture before falling from the window. In almost 20% of the accidents dangerous balcony or house constructions led to the fall. In seven accidents (23%) there was a chair, a bed, or bedside table, a sofa or a ledge in front of the window allowing the children to move up.
They also found that child window falls correlated more strongly with “an immigrant family setting” and low socio-professional category of the parents.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy statement entitled “Falls From Heights: Windows, Roofs, and Balconies”
The policy points out children older than one year old can not pass through a 4-in opening. As a result of this, most regional code agencies have adopted the 4-in spacing standard.
“In 1976, the New York City Board of Health, noting that child falls from windows accounted for 12% of deaths from unintentional injury of children younger than 15 years, passed a law requiring the owners of multiple-story dwellings to provide window guards in apartments where children 10 years and younger reside. The pilot program resulted in a 35% reduction in deaths attributable to child falls from windows and a 50% reduction in child fall incidents; no child fell from a window equipped with a window guard.”
“The mandatory program resulted in a reduction of up to 96% in admissions to local hospitals for the treatment of window-fall-related injuries. Follow-up through 1993 revealed a continuing downward trend. Recent data on the New York City experience showed no increase in the number of deaths attributable to residential fires (in fact, there was a decrease) after the introduction of window guards as required by city ordinance.”
Guidance from U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
To help prevent window fall injuries and tragedies, CPSC recommends the following safety tips:
- Safeguard your children by using window guards or window limit stops.
- Install window guards to prevent children against falls from windows. (For windows on the 6th floor and below, install window guards that adults and older children can open easily in case of fire.)
- Install window stops so that windows open no more than 4 inches.
- Never depend on screens to keep children safe from falls from windows.
- Whenever possible, open windows from the top, not the bottom.
- Keep furniture away from windows, to discourage children from climbing near windows.
- Some jurisdictions require landlords to install guards. Check your local regulations.
Recent News at the time this article was written
March 14, 2012, Abu Dhabi moves to end fatal child falls: No high-rise window to open more than 10cms, Abu Dhabu, UAE
March 14, 2012, Warm Weather Brings Danger to Pets, Chicago, IL
March 6, 2012, Parents anguish as son falls from first floor window of Gosport flat, Gosport, UK
February 4, 2012, Boy, 5, falls 10m onto concrete from window, Auburn, NSW, AU
February 2, 2012, Saved just weeks ago, 3-year-old plunges again… to her death, Abu Dhabi, UAE
January 17, 2012, Toddler falls from upstairs window, Campsie, New South Wales, AU
December 1, 2011, Another child dies in high-rise fall, Sharjah, UAE
September 30, 2011, Bronx teen dies after 60-foot fall from window, Bronx, NY
September 28, 2011, Safety probe into high-rise windows after eight child deaths, Dubai, UAE
September 8, 2011, Parents urged to childproof windows after record number of falls in Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
August 3, 2011, 11-month-old St. Paul girl dies in fall from ninth-floor window, St. Paul, MN
July 18, 2011, 4-year-old Boy Dies After Third-Story Fall, Marina Del Rey, CA
July 11, 2011, At Least 8 Kids Fall From Windows, Authorities Urge Precautions, Portland, OR
April 13, 2009, Boy falls to death from same window as brother, Allendale Twp, MI
Consumer Products Safety Commission Standards for Window Guards, June 21, 2000
New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Window Falls Prevention Program
Partners Promoting Window and Balcony Safety
Resources from AAMA (American Architectural Manufacturers Association)
“Keeping the Promise of Safety” Brochure
Window Safety Tips
Window Safety Checklist
Window Safety Activity and Coloring Book
“Fire Escape and Window Safety: A Balanced Approach”
Are your windows dangerous?
17 thoughts on “Child Falls from Windows: Preventable!”
Yes, there have been several incidents of children falling out windows in our area, with some miraculous survivals. We put bars on the boys’ bedroom windows when they were young.
I always enjoy your missives. The last two were particularly reminiscent for me. One of my very first encounters with the legal system and the window business back in the late 70’s had to do with a child falling out of a window (S/H) and where the window manufacturers liability ended.
The prior article you re did about SAK was amazing and brought back so many memories of my time at CRL, the people that were there and are now gone and the many lessons I learned there.
SAK will be missed as was John Ely when he moved on into a better world I hope. Maybe they are together working on reconfiguring and testing the “Pearly Gates”.
BV and Associates, Inc.
Your email has inspired me. I hope far more children are exposed to the dangers of unprotected windows. Preferably on YouTube. With sound effects.
Mark and friendss always a pleasure and yet so sad… google up the phrase “children falling high rise dubai” and story after story of children clambering up to and then falling out of high rise… punches me in the gut and utterly common here and the government doing what about it? Hauling the parents off to jail for endangering their kids. And that’s it.
Horrid and so preventable and yet hand wringing does nothing does it? I cannot speak of this further and am without any power to do anything about it… operable windows in high rise? Falling? Children? Architects? Engineers? Building Owners? Anyone interested in fixing this?
No as that would cost money. And not my problem.
Disgusting is too mild a term.
Thanks Mark… with your post maybe you will save a life from someone who reads this.
Preventable? Probably most if not all are with a bit of thought and not much expenditure. Opening limiters are useful to allow windows to open partly but not enough to allow anyone to fall out of. Locking handles help, but only if the key isn’t left in the handle! Properly thought through fastenings; we have a project on where there are narrow floor to ceiling windows in an office building. Each window is about 600mm (2 US feet) wide. The original ironmongery in the aluminium frames packed up years ago and so the managing agents had ‘Brighton’ sash fasteners fitted, designed to lock double-hung vertical sashes, not side-hung windows closed. These have screwed acorns which lock the fastener but these are made of pressure die-cast zinc (crapite) and the threads have stripped. Built ‘under former control’ the windows don’t have a mid-rail at 1100mm (3’7″ US) AFFL as the Building Regulations would now require. Last week a tradesman leaned against a window, the acorn pinged off, the fastener opened, the window swung open and he nearly fell through the opening from the 3rd floor (4th floor US) into the street below. A distinct brown trousers moment for him. It has prompted a radical rethink over all the windows in the building to check how they are secured shut and how effective the fasteners are. As the building is air conditioned, there is no need to open the windows anyway.
As a risk assessment, the answer is yes, there is a likelihood of falls through the windows, falls will be almost inevitably fatal, it is practicable to redesign the system to remove the risk and the cost of doing so would not be unreasonable. The previous ‘repair’ was ill-thought out and didn’t answer the identifiable risk properly. The fact that we did not have a fatality last week is simply down to nothing more scientific than luck. It was an near-miss accident that was eminently preventable.
Schroeders Begg LLP
Guildford, United Kingdom
I have to admit that after I wrote the article and as an afterthought googled “falls from windows”, I was horrified at the news stories that abound, and especially the little girl who died in Abu Dhabi only yesterday. I placed links to some recent news article at the bottom of mine at ChicagoWindowExpert.com and hopefully some of these will hit home somewhere in the world.
Have a look at the Angel Ventlock from Mighton Products. It’s designed to meet the stringent standards in the USA and in the UK. It meets ASTM F2090 – 2008/2010 safety codes. This is a global issue.
Thanks for that reference, Iain. Their products look really good. Here is a summary of the ASTM standard, which was posted on the Angel Ventlock site
ASTM F2090-2008 AND 2010
Open Window – No more than 4 inches
When opening control devices or window fall prevention screens are properly engaged, the window opening must be less than 4 inches. Release Mechanism – No tools or special knowledge for emergency escape Window opening control devices must have release mechanisms to allow an escape in case of an emergency. They should be designed to allow an escape without the need for special knowledge, tools or keys.
Release Mechanism – Independent operations of release mechanism
To protect against the unintentional operation by a young child, the emergency escape release mechanism must be operated either by
two independent single actions or
one dual action
The sash and the release mechanism needs to operate independently of each other.
Force Needed – Maximum force 15 lbf
The force required to release the emergency escape mechanism should not exceed
15 lbf (66N).
After the window opening control device is released, it must automatically reset when the window sash is fully closed.
Easily Seen Indicator
The emergency escape release mechanism must be clearly visible so that it can be used in an emergency situation without impediment.
No interference with integrity of window
Opening window with the control device must not interfere with the operation, function or performance of the window. The opening control device must also comply with any other applicable code standard requirements.
Instructions / Warnings that must be included
Each aftermarket window opening control device, when sold, must include installation instructions, operating instructions and safety information in the packaging.
The emergency escape release mechanism must operate properly under all reasonably foreseeable operating – and weather conditions.
Window opening control devices must be tested and need to meet all requirements in accordance with Section 8b.
Window opening control devices and emergency escape release mechanisms must not prevent the window unit from complying with applicable code requirements for minimum opening size.
6″ to 4″ limit stops are often found in the specifications we receive for condo/apartments. This works provided the tenant leaves them on.
Senior Project Manager at Thermal Windows Inc
Tulsa, Oklahoma Area
Horrid. Crying actually now. I am am tough man and live in a tough world. But children falling out of CW windows that we fabricate???
I am without words.
You men of CW I hold liable…
Interesting… I suppose… but did anyone really need to spend money to study this only to conclude that restricting openings to 4 inches will prevent accidental falls through windows? Our building codes nationally restrict the openings (and have for some time) on windows in high-rises, and at guard rails everywhere for this exact (and obvious) reason.
A great example of academic wastefulness, likely supported by ‘free’ money originating with taxpayers. Anyone in the design or building industries could have given you the same answer for free over coffee.
thanks, Mark, I appreciate your work, and this one is a good public safety service.
Howard – well said. Both our Standard Building Code and South FL Building Code addressed this prior to the state-wide FBC. As more consultants jump into the forensics, claims and litigation support pool, they are not aware of all that licensed architects are required to know. No disrespect to Mark as he may be just be inviting discussion.
I never understood how a child’s fall through a casement window in NYC back in 1991 occurred, but the reported details never addressed the how or why, since the accident was so tragic, and the child of a well known individual.
Sorry to know about the topic.
I am a facade contractor. My ongoing project at Mumbai had a problem.
The client needed an Automatic sliding door for which we suggested Dorma, but the client opted for local brand for which We delayed the job for 2 months. The reason was, It has the only one exit. The client was not ready for second / emergency exit.
My concern was, at the time of emergency if the local brand fails & No emergency exit available. THEN WHAT ?
After the client promised for second exit, I executed the job.
Bottom line: The Developers are playing with Human Life– for their own monetary benefits.
Posted by Nasir Shaikh
Mighton Products have the patented Angel Ventlock which meets the ASTM regulations and has even been used on USA military bases. It’s a product designed exclusively for sliding sashes. Even the RoSPA statistics show that 4,000 children are injured as a result from falling from windows every year in the UK. This is 4,000 too many. In the UK we need better legislation.
I cannot find the sash limiter requirements for commercial buildings (incl. apartments, condos, hotels etc) that specifically call for sash limitations. I believe IBC is (Burlingame Ca) the governing code though not sure which year…. But I would like to have whatever codes are applicable to this requirement in general. For years I have alerted salesman to be careful over 3 stories and to be sure to review with AHJ or simply provide sash limiters over the three stories..
Your website is great , I found it with Google!
Let me know and thanks so much for taking your time to help me out.
LEED AP BD&C, CSI/CDT, CA B 476027
JELD-WEN Wood Windows
ABS-American Building Supply
People Dedicated to Excellence
Deadly falls or any other kind of falls should be prevented by having a security window with bars in it.