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Window, balcony falls are preventable

As temperatures rise and the sun shines more brightly, it’s natural to want to let fresh air into our homes. But it’s important to understand that an open window or door to a balcony can be an invitation to serious injury or death for children.

Between 1999 and 2004, 42 children in Toronto were treated by paramedics after falling from a window or balcony. Of those children, 10 died, and 14 were critically injured. On April 5, a three-year old girl survived an eight story fall from a window, only because the ground was damp and broke her fall. Similar incidents occur across Canada, especially during the summer.

A concerted effort must be made to eliminate children’s falls from windows and balconies. These incidents are preventable. The most important tools to help prevent such a tragedy are:

Education about the dangers

Use of window guards

Assuming personal responsibility to protect children

Education

Education about the potential danger is essential. The risk of a fall exists wherever there is a window or a door to a balcony or deck. A fall from even a first-floor window can kill or severely injure a child since children commonly land on their heads after falling.

Whether in a city apartment, a house in the suburbs or even a rural area, falls can happen very fast, to any child. Young children should never be left unattended in areas where there are risks of serious injury.

Even with supervision, children can quickly escape the watchful eye of vigilant persons who become temporarily distracted. Caregivers must be aware of just how quickly a tragedy or near-tragedy can occur. Children also require age-appropriate instruction and warnings to make them aware of potentially dangerous situations and how to avoid them.

Window guards

Window guards that limit the opening of a window to approximately 10 centimetres or 4 inches have significantly reduced falls from windows in many North American jurisdictions.

National and provincial building codes and municipal standards or bylaws provide legislation and guidance regarding the use of such devices. Any window guard device should be releasable in the case of a fire where the window may be used an emergency exit.

Window screens are designed to keep insects out and improve ventilation and should not be relied on to prevent children from falling out of windows.

Personal responsibility

Personal responsibility is the ultimate tool for protecting children from window and balcony falls. Everyone who is entrusted with the care or supervision of a child must assume responsibility to protect them.

Proper supervision is a key strategy. Children must be prevented from gaining access to an unprotected window or door to a balcony or elevated deck. Young children often do not recognize dangerous situations and may be unable to remove themselves from the danger when it develops.

Safety Tips

Following these tips will prevent a child from falling out of a window or off a balcony:

Educate yourself about the dangers associated with window and balcony falls.

Educate and warn children never to play near open windows or on balconies.

Buy and use window guards that limit window opening to 10 cm or 4 inches.

Ensure that young children are supervised and not left unattended near potential hazards.

Lock all unopened doors and windows that lead to danger.

Make windows less accessible by keeping furniture or other items away from them.

Don’t rely on screens to protect children from falls out of windows.

By Dean Shaddock, Toronto Emergency Medical Services