Every year as the weather warms up, children in the Puget Sound area fall from windows.
In Everett, a 16-month-old girl fell 35 feet from an open window on Saturday. On July 2, a 5-year-old Marysville boy was critically injured when he fell from a second-story window onto a driveway.
These two children survived, according to Everett and Marysville authorities, but window falls can be fatal.
The more warm days we have, the greater the risk of a child falling from an open window, said Shawneri Guzman, the community outreach manager for Safe Kids Snohomish County.
Last year, Snohomish County had a record 22 window falls, Guzman said. So far this year, there have been four.
Seattle Fire Department medics have treated at least 30 children who fell from windows over the past five years, said department spokesperson David Cuerpo.
At Harborview Medical Center, 40 to 50 children each year are admitted after falling from an open window, said the hospital’s chief of pediatrics, Dr. Brian Johnston. One-third of them require intensive care, and 1 in 4 children returns home with some disability, according to Harborview’s Injury Prevention & Research Center.
Serious head injuries are common, as are facial fractures, neck and abdominal injuries and arm and leg fractures, according to Harborview. Children who land on concrete are more likely to be severely injured.
Among the children treated at Harborview, more than 85% fell from windows that had screens.
Insect screens are designed to keep bugs out, not to keep children in, said Johnston, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Simple window stops can provide a safe solution in homes with children when they are used to prevent a window from opening more than 4 inches, he said.
“We want to allow a window to open up to 4 inches for ventilation, but windows that are more than 4 inches open allow a toddler or another child to pass through.”
According to Guzman, factors such as the size of the child, how far a child falls and what the child lands on greatly affect the outcome of a fall.
“Many new homes in our area have bedrooms on the third floor, and falling from a third story versus a first or second story increases the likelihood the child will be severely injured,” she said in an email. If something like an awning, shrubbery or a softer surface like bark breaks the fall, risks are reduced, she said.
If a child does fall from a window, try not to move them and call 911 right away, said Guzman.
Here are some tips from Harborview to prevent falls:
- Remember that window screens do not prevent children from falling out a window. They can provide a false sense of security, which may contribute to fall risk. Screens are designed to pop out for fire safety, so the weight of a toddler can easily push through one.
- When possible, keep windows closed in rooms where children play. If possible, open windows from the top rather than the bottom.
- 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.
- For other windows, inexpensive window stops can be installed on windows that slide open horizontally to prevent them from opening more than 4 inches.
- Move beds, chairs, tables and other furniture away from windows. These can allow a small child to climb onto the sill. Do not permit children to sit on windowsills or jump from windowsills 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 concrete.
- 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.