The weather is warming and that means windows are being opened to let in fresh air and warm breezes. The advantages to open windows are many. But one particular disadvantage is the safety hazard open windows present to young children.
More than 5,000 American children are injured each year after falling out of windows, says the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus. Two-thirds of these children are toddlers, and a quarter of all injured are hurt seriously enough to require hospital admittance. Montreal Children's Hospital says they treat roughly 10 children a year who have fallen from a window. Due to toddlers' high center of gravity (a head that is particularly heavy), most topple over and land head-first, which can have devastating effects.
Falls from windows can cause serious injuries and even death. However, the accidents are largely preventable. Many recall the tragic 1991 incident when musician Eric Clapton's son, Conor, fell to his death from an apartment 49 stories up in a Manhattan highrise. Conor, age 4, allegedly darted past a housekeeper who had left the window open after cleaning and fell out of the window. The song "Tears in Heaven" was subsequently written by Clapton for his son.
Children are often insatiable in their curiosity and desire to see what is happening in the world around them. Goings-on outdoors can be fascinating, and it is not farfetched to see children leaning up against windows and screens to get a better view of outdoors. A window screen can easily dislodge and provides no barrier from a fall.
Parents and guardians of young children should add window protection to the list of safety gear they use to childproof a home. There are many varieties of window guards that attach to windows and provide a measure of security against falls. Some of these safety devices are bars or grills that install into place but can be easily removed by an adult in the event the window needs to be used as an emergency evacuation point. Window gates can be used on larger, swing-out windows to form a barrier for children. There are also locks and latches that restrict how much a window can be opened.
Some areas of the country have made it law to have window guards on second story windows where children under age 10 are in residence, particularly highrise apartment buildings. Even falls from ground-floor windows can cause injuries. It's important to check with a landlord or with a municipal office about the requirements with regard to window guards.
In addition to the installation of window guards, there are other safety steps that help prevent window-related falls.
* Keep furniture away from windows. Children can climb on the furniture and have better access to windows.
* Keep beds away from windows, especially in a child's bedroom. Children may horse around on a bed and bounce through an open window if the bed and window are not far apart.
* Routinely inspect the hardware and construction of the window to ensure it is secure. Periodically check the fit of a window guard to make sure it is properly installed.
* Do not open windows wide in children's rooms. A few inches is all that's needed for fresh air.
* Make sure children know they are not allowed to play next to open windows or to try to climb up to windows.