Window safety: locks save toddlers
Nearly one child falls out of a window every week in Australia. New regulations, guidelines and security devices can keep preschoolers out of trouble.
About 50 children fall out of windows and off balconies every year in Australiai. NSW Health has an education campaign, Kids don't fly (2012), with advice on how to prevent injuriesii,i.
It's an urgent community concern, as more than half of NSW's population is expected to live in strata schemes by 2030.iii
The campaign was drawn from recommendations of a 2011 report by a working party established by the Children's Hospital Westmeadiv.
Toddlers aged between one and four years-old are most at risk because they are curious and agile, but can't understand the danger. Falls usually happen in the child's home, during spring and summer, when families leave windows permanently openv.
New buildings: Building code changes
The Australian Building Codes Board introduced new provisions to the Building Code of Australia (BCA2013). These require, from May 2013, that all bedroom windows where the fall height is 2m or greater are with fitted safety devices 'where the lowest level of the window opening is less than 1.7m above the floor'. In such a case the window must either have a robust screen or the window opening must be restricted to 125mm. The screen or device used must be able to 'resist an outward horizontal action of 250 Newtons'vi,vii. These are the minimum requirements, and each state and territory can legislate to include more safety measures, so refer to your state or territory authority.
What about existing buildings?
The changes to the building code will result in safer environments for Australian children as new buildings are completed. However, the changes don't have an impact on the existing residential housing stock in Australia.
With much of the concern focussed on child window safety in multistorey strata buildingsiii, the NSW Office of Fair Trading has amended the NSW Strata Schemes Management Act 1996 (Section 64A(1)). The changes are outlined in the NSW Strata Schemes Management Regulation 2010 (Part 9, clause 31viii). They require owners' corporations to install safety devices generally on all openable windows that pose a safety risk to young children by 13 March 2018ix or else fines could applyx. Residents can apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for orders for the owners' corporation to take actioniii.
If you live in a strata unit in NSW, safety devices should be retrospectively fitted to openable windows when the lowest edge is less than 1.7 metres above the internal floor level, and when the drop from the internal floor level to the external surface beneath the window is two metres or moreiii.
In NSW strata units, the windows will not have to be locked permanently in one position: for example, if there are no children present, the windows can be left wide openiii. If the safety device can be removed, overridden or unlocked, it must have a child-resistant release mechanismiii. Like the Building Code requirements, the safety device must be able to resist an outward horizontal action of 250 Newtonsviii
If you own or live in an apartment in a strata building in NSW, you can ask the owners' corporation when it plans to install safety devices. If you want to install devices earlier, you must inform the owners' corporation and make sure the devices are correctly installed and are in keeping with the building's overall appearancexi. You are liable for any damage caused to common property during the installation.
If you're not in a strata unit but you want to protect kids from window falls, you can still install safety devices as an owner-resident, landlord or tenant. Tenants need to get written permission from the landlord to install safety devices, and they must discuss and negotiate who will pay for it, and what will happen to the safety device once the tenancy ends. Landlords in NSW cannot refuse permission unless they have a good reasoni.
Tenants, landlords and owners' corporations in other states and territories should refer to information provided by the relevant state or territory authority.
Window safety devices and strategies
One important window safety strategy is behaviour modification: teach children not to climb up windows or press hard against the glassiv.
Precautionary measures are also important. Place beds away from windows and don't use lightweight furniture in a room where it can be stacked beneath a window when you're not watchingiv.
Check that older window frames can support the weight of a child leaning against themxii.
There are four common types of safety devices available on the market: grilles, guards and mesh; safety nets; window restrictors and window locksxiii. In NSW, there is not a prescribed list of acceptable safety devices in the regulations due to the large variety of window designsiii.
- Grilles, guards and mesh: Often metal bars or mesh attached to the window frame. These allow windows to be opened, while still providing protection. In an emergency adults can quickly remove these. Suitable for most common window types including single and double hung sash windows, sliding windows, casement windows and awning and hopper windows.
- Safety nets: A safety net attached to the window frame. Adults can remove netting in an emergency. Suitable for single and double hung sash windows and sliding windows.
- Window restrictors: These restrict the window being opened too far. In an emergency the restrictor can be removed by unlocking. Suitable for most common window types including single and double hung sash windows, sliding windows, casement windows and awning and hopper windows.
- Window locks: Key operated window locks can be installed to limit the window opening. They can be unlocked for normal window operation in an emergency. Suitable for single and double hung sash windows and sliding windows.
If you're not sure what safety device to use, contact a qualified window safety expertxiv.