Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spotlight on Safety: Windows!

A post I wrote for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette's MassMoms blog:

With spring in full swing, one of the things we do with great joy is open the windows for the first time in months to let in that glorious fresh air!  What many parents do not think of, is that when they open those windows, they also create an opportunity for falls and injury to their child.  This is a great time of year to do an annual household safety check.  The focus for this weekend should be on window safety.

April 7-13th is National Window Safety Week.  Most window falls happen in the spring and summer months, because the weather is generally nicer.  In a report from 2011 (the most recent statistic I could find) estimated 14 children are treated in emergency rooms every day from a window fall in the U.S.  One out of every four children injured had to be hospitalized for their injuries.  The most common injuries were soft tissue injuries, broken bones and head and brain injuries.  The younger the child and the higher the window the child fell from, the greater the injury. Children who live in urban areas, high rise buildings and in low income neighborhoods seem to be at the greatest risk, but ANY child can fall out of ANY window that is not protected.

Most children who fall out of windows do so by climbing on something that is in front of or near the window, usually a piece of furniture, and accidentally fall against the screen, which cannot hold their weight.  Some simply push on the screen causing it to fall, and then in looking out the window, fall.  Remember, kids, especially toddlers, are top heavy! Others fall as a result of horseplay near open windows or even an innocent game of hide and seek, unaware that the screen, and consequently they, can fall out.  The higher the window and the harder the surface the child lands on, generally the more serious the injury.  

There are simple things that can be done to prevent a window fall.  First of all, know that screens, no matter how secure they seem, are not strong enough to prevent a child from falling  out of a window.  It is also important to realize that a child does not have to fall far or onto concrete to suffer a life threatening injury.  Any fall has the potential to cause serious injury or death.   

While it is important to take action to prevent an accidental fall out of a window, you must also be sure whatever is used is quickly and easily overcome by an adult in the case of a fire.  Nailing into the frame is a quick fix, but not easily overcome in the event of a fire and therefore, not recommended.  The same can be said for most do-it-yourself guards.  Window guards, like the ones mentioned below, are perfect for this as children lack the dexterity to release them but an adult easily can.  In cities where the use of window guards in high rise apartment style buildings is mandatory, window fall injuries decreased dramatically.  They work.  

To prevent window falls:

Move all furniture away from windows

Do not place items on window sills

If possible, only open windows from the top when children are very young

If windows are open from the bottom, they should open no more than 4 inches.  

Use window guards like Guardian Angel Window Guards or KidCo Mesh Window Guards on all second story and higher windows.  Window stops are not all created equal.  Avoid suction cup versions or wedge window stoppers as they tend to fail and can create a false sense of security

Never use corded shades or blinds (also pose a strangulation hazard) as they may entice a child to climb to release them

Teach older children the dangers of going in and out of windows or jumping out of windows for ‘fun’.  Not only could it be unsafe for them, but younger children imitate older children

When windows are closed, make sure they are locked with the mechanism that is built in

Consider planting shrubs or plants under windows, as they can potentially ‘soften’ the fall, should it occur.  This should be done in conjunction with the above noted steps, not as a stand alone preventative measure.

Should your child become a victim of a fall, for any reason, it’s important that you do not move them if they appear seriously injured, are not moving on their own or are unconscious.  You could cause further injury.  Call 911 and let the trained medical professionals safely and properly move the child and transport them to the hospital.  If you have never taken a first aid class or a CPR class, this is a good time to remind you everyone should know these important potentially life saving skills.

As with all things, prevention is key.  A few dollars and a bit of time can make your home and your child safer!

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