The Importance Of Window and Balcony Safety
Window and balcony safety is paramount to all homes and service buildings, including hotels and the workplace. The risks of unintentional falls should not be underestimated, findings from the World Health Organisation (WHO) state that, "Each year an estimated 424,000 individuals die from falls globally", and it must be understood a fall is defined as a person coming to rest at a lower level that could be falling from ladders, window cill or balcony. Age and other factors influence the likelihood of falls from windows and balconies. Serious falls can either be fatal or lead to serious head injuries resulting in brain damage and mental impairment causing life-long disabilities.
What puts people at risk?
A number of factors put people in danger of accidents. If you have ever stayed in a hotel and wondered why the window is limited by a window restrictor and you can’t fully open it, the following sections illustrate the reasons behind this:
The under-fives are the most at-risk age group from accidental falls through windows and on balconies. According to the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT) (CAPT), "one child under five is admitted to hospital every day after falling from a building".
The mental and physical development that occurs during the toddler and pre-school years is considerable, it is an age where children are keen to explore their surroundings and are naturally curious, this is not however, accompanied with an awareness of danger or risks. Toddlers are perhaps the most at risk, climbing and exploring is very much a part of their developmental phase. Unfortunately, toddlers have little sense of the dangerous of the environment they are in and parents/carers are responsible for baby/toddler proofing the whole house. This includes windows, balconies, stairs, socket points, cookers, electrical equipment, the bathroom (or anything to do with water) cleaning products and the list goes on. Windows and balconies along with swimming pools and ponds etc. are definitely among the most hazardous household features for the climbing toddler.
Balconies are an equally if not more dangerous location for all children, the entrance doors to a balcony must be kept locked, or have good quality restrictors, to restrict access. Balconies have to adhere to building regulations which state that they must be of a certain height. Certain designs make climbing onto them more difficult. In many warmer climates where balconies are more common and widely used, strong safety meshes are attached to the outside of buildings, allowing windows and balconies to remain in use. This is not always an appropriate solution.
Reduced Mental Capacity
Alcohol and drugs (both prescription and non-prescription) can heavily alter an individual’s mental state, leaving them more prone to accidents. In the case of upper storey windows and balconies, multiple falls have occurred whilst individuals were sitting on window or balcony ledges and either admiring the view or deep in conversation on a mobile phone for example, and accidentally fallen through the window or over the balcony. The following are some further factors that could possibly increase the chances of a window or balcony fall:
It is a well-known fact that alcohol impairs judgement, hence the legal restrictions on drinking and driving or operating machinery. Alcohol can cause one or more of the following:
- reduce awareness of danger (reckless behaviour)
- upset balance and coordination
- impair vision
- dull reactions
- heighten emotions, positive or negative
Prescription and Non-Prescription Drugs
There are a number of both prescription and non-prescription drugs that much like alcohol impair judgement, awareness of danger and may cause one or more of the following:
- slow reactions
- impair balance and coordination
- over confidence
- reckless behaviour
- Sleep Walking
Some mental disorders may lead the sufferer to believe they need to escape from some kind of danger and that the window or a balcony is the only exit.
Windows, balconies and rooftop terraces are also possible locations for those wishing to inflict self harm.
Disorientation and confusion can contribute to window and balcony accidents and falls, this may be the result of:
- a stressful situation e.g. a recently re-homed child in temporary accommodation
- broken sleep in unfamiliar surroundings, in holiday accommodation
- intoxication due to alcohol, prescription/non prescription drugs or both
- mental disorders
Reduction and Solutions
Many of us would like to be able to have the window open and enjoy the fresh air, especially during the summer months. However, window and balcony safety should not be underestimated, cable window restrictors are an excellent solution, providing peace of mind for all home owners, especially for those with young children, but also for those with rental properties or student accommodation.
The majority of hotels are fitted with window restrictors as they have a legal responsibility in accident prevention. This is not the case in private home properties, although the consequences of such accidents are no less tragic.
There are a number of window and balcony door restrictors available that can be locked with a key or have a push-and-turn release mechanism. Permanent restrictors are not as popular due to fire safety regulations, although necessary in some cases. For those with small children, window and balcony safety is essential and all items that can be used for climbing such as beds, tables, chairs, ledges, plant pots etc. must be kept away from windows and balconies.
Window and balcony safety devices allow us to enjoy the fresh air with peace of mind and should be fitted on windows and balcony doors, but it must be alerted, safety devises are not a substitute for Adult care supervision.