In this article, premises safety expert Sylvia Deye discusses window safety and the leading causes of fall from window incidents. Her discussion includes design, maintenance, and operational aspects that affect premises safety. The experts at Robson Forensic investigate a broad range of premises liability disputes on behalf of counsel for both plaintiffs and defendants.
The selection of windows for residential, commercial, or public buildings must be made not just with function and appearance, but life safety and welfare in mind. Architecturally there are more than 20 types of windows, with over half that can be opened in a number of configurations. Windows provide the necessary daylight, air flow, and solar heat-gain into our environments, but special consideration must be made for egress and safety features necessary for each building type.
In particular, child window safety is an ongoing concern, as unintentional falls are consistently cited as a leading cause of injuries for children. These falls typically happen at home and almost half are among children 5-years and younger. Studies have shown that there are about 5,100 children injured from window falls per year. Additional statistics show that boys account for 58% of window falls which are more common in spring and summer months. It is estimated that about 12 children 10-years old and younger die each year, falling from windows.
Falls from windows are not exclusive to children. They also happen to adults, in a variety of settings including public and institutional buildings. For example, we have investigated instances in older college dormitories or older residential buildings without air conditioning, where occupants rolled out of their beds and through an open window in their sleep. In cases like these, our experts examine not only the condition of the windows and safety equipment, but also policies involving the arrangement of furniture, and the maintenance/inspection history of the facility.
Preventing falls from windows
The following are basic window safety rules for everyone in commercial, residential, and public facility settings to follow:
In the early 1990s the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported a high percentage of window fall fatalities and injuries. In response, ASTM International formed a Window Fall Prevention subcommittee. The committee was tasked with creating standards for use in legislation, building codes, and educating individuals. The committee also addressed the implementation, requirements, installation, and testing of window fall prevention devices. Three types of window fall prevention devices are:
In June 2000, new safety standards for window guards were announced to ensure that guards are strong enough to prevent falls. For windows produced without built-in guards or stops, retrofitted guards and stops are available to enable windows to comply with safety standards. A guideline is that the window and/or guard cannot open, or have openings more than 4”. Various more specialized window types require different safety steps and protections. The openings for a slider window, casement, awning style, hopper, single hung, and double hung all need specific guards or stops. To accommodate these size/fit requirements, guards are available in various sizes and consumers should compare features to determine which guards best suit their needs. For new construction or window replacement, some windows are now provided with built-in window stops.
In public and commercial buildings such as hotels, apartments, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and dormitories, there are expectations that windows will either be secured shut or will have safeguards that allow them to open only a limited amount. The initial choice of manufacturer and window type begins the safety process. It must be followed by regular, ongoing window maintenance and inspection to ensure that safeguards are installed and working properly. Inspection records should be kept and all repairs logged. The design of the interior space is also crucial in window fall prevention, and starts with keeping the space around windows clear of beds, chairs, or anything a child might be able to climb up on or fall from.
National codes and standards provide guidelines for window design safety, including sill heights, depth of window sills and window sizes to meet egress requirements. Maintenance codes and standards and local authorities establish consensus for who is responsible to provide and maintain the necessary guards or stops to prevent people from falling out of windows. State and local authorities typically regulate when window guards are required to be provided in apartments and common spaces where young children are anticipated.
In the unfortunate event of a child or adult falling from a window, the architectural experts at Robson Forensic have the experience and qualifications to investigate whether the conditions of the room/building and the incident window were dangerous in a manner that caused the fall. Considerations such as the specific window type and its safety features, window height, maintenance, and furniture placement are all factors to be thoroughly assessed. Our premises safety experts have years of professional experience in the design and construction of residential, commercial, and institutional properties, including the choice of safe and appropriate windows.