Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center
DATE: May 19, 2006
Falls From Windows: Preventing a Warm Weather Tragedy
Every year, nearly 5,000 kids — mostly toddlers — fall out of windows. Of these children, 28 percent require a hospital stay, and dozens die. Window screens provide no protection against these tragedies, and research shows that 40-60 percent of children who fall through windows first fall through a screen.
Every year, hospitals in the Puget Sound area treat 30-50 children for injuries caused by falls from windows. One-third of children hospitalized after a window fall will require intensive care, and 25 percent will return home with some disability. Head injury is the most serious outcome of a fall. Other injuries include neck and abdominal injuries, as well as arm and leg fractures. Children who land on concrete sustained the most severe injuries.
Most window falls happen at the child’s own home, and over 70 percent occur in the spring and summer months, when families open windows for cooling and ventilation. Children are equally vulnerable to falls, whether they live in single-family homes or apartments, the city or the suburbs.
“Window screens give a false sense of security,” says Dr. Brian Johnston, chief of pediatrics at Harborview Medical Center, the region’s only level-1 pediatric 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.”
Suggestions for parents:
- Keep windows closed in rooms where children play.
- Supervision is key to preventing window falls. Most falls occur when children aged 6 and under play alone or with another young child in an upstairs bedroom when the parent is in another room.
- Open windows from the top rather than the bottom.
- Move beds, chairs, tables and other furniture away from windows ‑ these can allow a small child to climb onto the sill. Children should not be allowed to sit on window sills or jump from window sills to furniture.
- 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.
- Never rely on window screens to prevent children from falling out a window. Screens are designed to pop out for fire safety ‑ the weight of a toddler can easily push through a screen.
- Commercially available window guards can be installed to prevent children from falling out an open window. 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, and they are widely available on the internet.
- Inexpensive window stops can be installed on windows that slide open horizontally to prevent them from opening more than 4 inches.
For more information:
National Safety Council: http://www.nsc.org/aware/window/
Timothy Healey Foundation: http://windowsafe.org