Windows open opportunities for falls

child looking out of window

After an excruciatingly long winter, Minnesotans are anxious to embrace spring weather. The warm temperatures have many turning off the heat and opening windows to let in the fresh air. Unfortunately, these open windows also open the opportunity for a child to fall out of a window and experience serious – and sometimes fatal – injuries.

To keep this season positive, pediatric specialists at Hennepin Healthcare want to remind families of the importance of window safety so curious kids are safe when they’re enjoying the great weather, too. Children from cruising age through three years are at the highest risk, though Hennepin Healthcare has treated kids as old as 17 with injuries related to window falls.

After seeing children admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) last year, pediatric residents Haley Zweber and Alison Woods investigated Hennepin Healthcare’s data regarding falls.  

“Rotating at a level 1 Trauma Center we see firsthand the effect these incidents can have on children and their families,” said Dr. Zweber.

Dr. Woods reported that when they looked at the data, at least 83 children had been treated at HCMC after falling out of windows in the past 10 years.

“These falls occur most commonly in children 0-3 years old and can lead to life-threatening injuries,” she said. “We want to raise awareness of the importance of window safety so we can keep all children in our community safe.” 

Falls often occur in the child’s own house or apartment during the warmer months when families leave windows and balcony doors open. And if you think screens are the answer, they’re not. Screens are made to keep bugs out, not to keep children in. Many children fall when they lean on the screen and it gives way.

“It’s heartbreaking to see these types of preventable injuries,” said Dr. Ashley Bjorklund, Pediatric Intensivist and Medical Director of Hennepin Healthcare’s PICU. “Unfortunately, traumatic brain injuries and injuries to the spine are the most common outcome. We want to do all we can to help raise awareness and prevent these injuries from occurring.” 

“We reviewed our data from the past few years and are seeing an increase in falls despite there being new legislation and advocacy for window lock requirements during that time. While window falls impact all children, the impact is not equal. There are significant disparities in who is most affected. Those with less resources are more likely to have windows open rather than air conditioning on, and often live in multi- level apartment buildings for higher level fall risk.”

Tips to prevent window falls: 

  • Provide close supervision to young children around open windows.
  • Open windows from the top down wherever this is an option.
  • Do not rely on screens to prevent a child from falling out of a window.
  • If you cannot open a window safely, keep it closed and locked.
  • Keep beds and other furniture away from windows. Many children fall when they are standing on furniture and lean into an open window.
  • Do not open windows above the ground floor more than 4 inches, and make sure there is a way to secure it so a child cannot easily open it further.
  • Install child safety devices. These can be purchased at a hardware store, or if you’re a renter, talk with your landlord and see if they would provide this. Be sure anything installed can be easily released by an adult in case of emergency.
  • Be sure to consider places you are visiting in addition to home.