Opening your home’s windows on a hot day can keep your living space cool, but there’s a hidden peril for young children: children falling out of windows. Just in the last month five children fell from windows and were treated at Harborview Medical Center. Doctors fear more such injuries will occur.
One-third of children hospitalized after a window fall require intensive care, and one in four children return home with some disability. Unfortunately, serious head injuries are common; other injuries include facial fractures, neck and abdominal injuries, and arm and leg fractures. Children who land on concrete are more likely to be severely injured.
Most window falls happen in the child’s own home. Over 70 percent occur in the spring and summer months when families must open windows for cooling and ventilation. Children are vulnerable to falls, whether they live in single-family homes or apartments, the city or the suburbs.
Window Screens Provide a False Sense of Security
Window screens provide no protection against these tragedies and likely contribute to the risk of a fall. Over 85% percent of the children who fall out of windows first fall through a screen.
“Window screens give a false sense of security,” says Dr. Brian Johnston, chief of pediatrics at Harborview Medical Center, the region’s only Level I pediatric and adult trauma center. “A screen is not a safety device. It’s designed to keep insects out, not to keep children in. Parents of young children need to take other steps to prevent this tragedy.”
“Educating new parents on window fall prevention can save lives,” local Seattle parent Ankur Gupta explains. Gupta’s two-year-old daughter, Mira, leaned against a screened window and unexpectedly fell out from a two-story screened window in her home. “It happened in an instant,” said her father. She sustained multiple fractures and scrapes but is recovering quickly.
Dr. Beth Ebel, a Harborview/UW Medicine pediatrician and research scientist at the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center (HIPRC), emphasizes that no one can move fast enough to stop the injury from occurring. That’s why she and other experts emphasize simple steps to make windows safe.
Emma Chesmore and Andrew Weaver’s daughter, Lily, fell through a third-story screened window in their Maple Valley apartment. Their lives were turned upside down in an instant and now they want to do our part to help other parents prevent window falls.
Learn about their harrowing experience here.
Tips to Protect Against Children Falling Out of Windows
1. Remember that window screens do not prevent children from falling out a window; instead, they provide a false sense of security which may contribute to fall risk. Screens are designed to pop out for fire safety ‑ the weight of a toddler can easily push through a screen.
2. When possible, keep windows closed in rooms where children play. Open windows from the top rather than the bottom.
3. For windows you must open fully, commercially available window guards can be installed to prevent children from falling. These guards cost as little as $20 and are designed to swing open to allow escape in the event of a fire. Many hardware stores will special-order these guards and they are widely available on the internet.
4. For other windows, inexpensive window stops can be installed on windows that slide open horizontally to prevent them from opening more than 4 inches and therefore prevent a child from falling.
5. Move beds, chairs, tables and other furniture away from windows in order to prevent a small child from climbing onto the sill. Do not permit children to sit on window sills or jump from window sills to furniture.
6. Consider placing shrubs, bark or grass under windows to cushion potential falls. The landing surface can greatly affect the degree of injury sustained from a fall. Anything is better than cement.
7. New homes should meet safety standards to prevent window falls. Talk with your contractor or landlord to make sure your home meets window safety standards.