Window Falls

Hidden Hazards: Preventing Window Falls this Summer

Each year, 3,500 to 5,000 U.S. children are hospitalized after falling from an open window. Window screens provide no protection against these tragedies and likely contribute to the risk of a fall. Over 85% percent of children who fall through windows first fall through a screen.

Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, owned by King County and part of UW Medicine,  admits 40 to 50 young children annually for injuries sustained in falls from windows. One-third of children hospitalized after a window fall require intensive care, and one in four children return home with some disability. Unfortunately serious head injuries are common; other injuries include facial fractures, neck and abdominal injuries and arm and leg fractures. Children who land on concrete are more likely to be severely injured.

“Educating new parents on window fall prevention can save lives,” local Seattle parent Ankur Gupta said. Gupta’s two-year old daughter, Mira, leaned against a screened window and unexpectedly fell out from a two-story screened window in her home. “It happened in an instant,” said her father. She sustained multiple fractures and scrapes but is recovering quickly. Dr. Beth Ebel, a Harborview/UW Medicine pediatrician and research scientist at the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center (HIPRC), emphasized that no one can move fast enough to stop the injury from occurring. That’s why she and other experts emphasize simple steps to make windows safe.

Most window falls happen in the child’s own home. Over 70 percent occur in spring and summer months, when families must open windows for cooling and ventilation. As of 2015, 4 in every 5 Seattle rental units had no primary air conditioning, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Children are 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 I  pediatric and adult 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.”

Emma Chesmore and Andrew Weaver’s daughter, Lily, fell through a third-story screened window in their Maple Valley apartment. Weaver says most parents of young children don’t know about critical window safety. “Our lives were turned upside down in an instant. Now we want to do our part to help other parents prevent window falls.” Fortunately Lily sustained relatively minor injuries but has had trouble sleeping due to the emotional shock. “It’s one of those things you don’t think about happening, even if the house is baby-proofed,” Weaver says.

How you can protect against window falls:

  • Remember that window screens do not prevent children from falling out a window; instead they provide a false sense of security which may contribute to fall risk. Screens are designed to pop out for fire safety ‑ the weight of a toddler can easily push through a screen.
  • When possible, keep windows closed in rooms where children play. 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. This will prevent a child from falling.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

Our mission at Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center (HIPRC) is to prevent harm and suffering from injury and violence through research, educating professionals and policymakers, and providing resources and tools to various communities in Washington.

A downloadable information packet is available: Window Falls – Infographic

For a downloadable video to use on your site, visit the UW Medicine Newsroom:

Media inquiries: Susan Gregg, 206-616-6730; sghanson@uw.edu

https://newsroom.uw.edu/resource/parents-warn-window-falls-during-warm-weather