Who’s at risk?

According to the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, children aged from one to five years old are at risk as they are naturally curious but lack the ability to judge potentially dangerous situations. In particular, children aged between two and four years have an increased risk of injury, with over 100 admissions due to window or balcony falls for this age group being recorded at CHW in the ten years between 1998 and 2008. This is partially due to toddlers being top heavy, making them more prone to fall injuries.

Furthermore, fall incidents peak in the summer period, which can be attributed primarily to the warmer weather allowing or requiring windows to be open, as well as an increased level of outdoor activity, which can lead to opportunities for falls from balconies and decks.

Data shows that while the incidence rate for falls from windows and balconies/decks is approximately equal, 2007 saw a significant spike in falls from windows, with 17 children admitted to CHW after falling from a window, while 11 were injured from falling from a balcony.

Boys are significantly more likely to be injured than girls, with the CHW building falls data revealing a male/female ratio of 2:1 in children aged less than 14 years. The report accounted for this with the tendency for boys to be more likely to engage in more risk taking behaviour and rough play compared to girls.

Some of these falls documented have been from quite a height, with a high proportion falling from windows and balconies on the first floor. The next most frequent height was from the second floor and 19 children in the documented period fell through an insect screen. Often young children can be lured into a false sense of security, as they don’t understand that a fly screen may not be able to hold their weight.


How do they occur?

Accident information obtained by CHW from parents of injured children presenting to the hospital found that a number of factors contributed to the incidents. Some examples include; playing in a bedroom with a sibling or left unattended; climbing onto furniture and pushing an insect screen or opened window and losing balance while sitting on a window sill.

The report concludes that in the majority of cases, both the actions of the child or parent (e.g. placing furniture near open windows), in conjunction with specific building components (i.e. a low sill), contributed to the incidents. In particular, placing furniture near a window that isn’t fitted with a latching or locking safety device, was identified as a significant child safety issue.

Older buildings may also present a higher risk, as they may not have safety features that are required by today’s safety building code. Older buildings are often built with low sills, built in window seats and balustrading that may be easy for children to climb on.


Fall prevention

To prevent falls from windows, the Children’s Hospital at Westmead recommends that all windows above the ground floor to be opened no more than 12.5cm and that they be fitted with window locks/latches to stop them opening more than 12.5cm, or guards to protect the opening.

The hospital also advises that where possible, windows be opened from the top; furniture be kept away from windows; parents do not rely on flyscreens to prevent a child falling out of a window; children are taught to play away from a window and that children always be supervised.