When you stand looking out a window, you're interested in what's going on outside. But health experts are interested in how safe you are inside.
Everyone knows that kids who ride bikes or climb jungle gyms risk falling. That's why things such as bike helmets and well-designed playgrounds are so important! On the other hand, most people don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about the dangers posed by ordinary windows in their homes and schools.
Ronnie Benoit, assistant chief for pediatric trauma at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children in Falls Church, is worried about windows.
"At Inova we take care of children for trauma," Benoit says. "We have noticed that we have had an increase of falls among children, especially those younger than 4 years old. We had 20 children in our emergency room last year alone." Benoit and his colleagues are conducting a research study to find out when and how the falls happen. They hope that the information they gather will help safety experts figure out better ways to prevent these accidents.
In September, the hospital treated a 2-year-old girl who tumbled 14 stories from a window in her family's condominium. After leaning backward on a bedroom window screen, she fell 150 feet and landed on a small patch of grass. She survived the fall, but suffered serious internal injuries. There's good news to report about her: The little girl was released from the hospital and went home last week.
The little girl's terrible fall made all the newspapers and TV programs, Benoit remembers. Everyone was shocked because her fall was so dramatic and unusual.
"But kids fall out of windows every day," says Benoit, "and typically it's a second-story window."
Benoit says emergency doctors at Fairfax Hospital tend to see kids who have fallen from windows in single-family homes and garden apartments--but it can happen at any home. "Some of the newer houses have very fancy windows that reach to the floor," he says. "They look nice, but they can be dangerous to children."
Benoit says the majority of window falls take place in the spring and fall, when windows are open to the milder air. Accidents are less common in the summer and winter because people tend to keep their windows closed at those times of year.
Sixty percent of children who fall from windows experience head injuries, Benoit says. Other injuries include broken arms or legs. Serious, life-threatening injuries are more likely to occur when kids fall on concrete rather than grass or bushes.
The National Safe Kids Campaign reports that an average of 18 children 10 years old and younger die each year in the United States after falling from windows and that about 4,700 children younger than 15 are treated in emergency rooms for injuries from window falls every year.
If you have younger kids in your family, you know how much they love to explore--and how little they know about what's dangerous and what isn't. Benoit knows that, too. He always makes sure that windows in his kids' room are only open slightly and that there's nothing beneath the windows, such as chairs or toy boxes, that kids could climb on. He also uses window guards to make sure his kids stay inside.
"Remember, screens that keep bugs out can't keep kids in," says Benoit.
Tips for Parents
A young child can be drawn to an open window by something as simple as seeing a squirrel on a branch outside or hearing a siren out in the street. "Lots of children's falls aren't even witnessed by parents," says Ronnie Benoit, assistant chief for pediatric trauma at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children in Falls Church, who is conducting a study on patterns of children's window falls. "A child may just stand on a bed that's up against a window or climb into a toy box placed under a window. To them a window is just another attraction." Benoit offers this advice to "fall-proof" a child's room:
* Install guards on windows located on the ground floor and higher unless they are designated as emergency fire exits.
* Don't keep the toy chest or bed right next to the window.
* Teach children not to open windows without adult help.
* Don't put chairs or bunk beds in front of windows.
* Don't rely on screens. They will not hold a falling child inside.
For more information about child safety issues or to get involved in prevention activities, contact the National Safe Kids Campaign at 202-662-0600 and ask about the coalition nearest you or visit the national group on the Web at www.safekids.org.
For You to Do
Make a poster illustrating the slogan "Remember, screens that keep bugs out can't keep kids in." Do your own drawings or make a collage with photos cut from magazines. (Please ask for permission before you cut up anything that's lying around on your living room coffee table, though.) Put the poster in your kitchen or somewhere else visible in your house to remind your family and child-care providers about the hazards posed by open windows.