By Lauren Ziegler
Over the next five years, windows in all apartments in NSW higher than ground level must be fitted with locks to prevent children falling out. Following numerous injuries to children across the state, legislation is expected to be passed in State Parliament enforcing the ruling from July 2013, marking a strong move towards raising awareness of child safety in the household.
Each year, up to 40 children under nine are admitted to hospital in NSW alone after falling out a window. The American journal Pediatrics recently reported that 5,200 children fall out of windows annually in the USA, and injuries range from minimal bruising to death.
“Unfortunately, children don’t understand the consequences of their actions,” says child safety expert Carolyn Gayst. “Accidents can happen but parents can help to minimise the risk as much as possible.”
Under the proposed legislation, safety locks or devices will have to be attached to every apartment window above ground level with an opening larger than 12.5 cm. The initiative is supported by the Children’s Hospital at Westmead which has been promoting its ‘Kids Don’t Fly’ campaign since 2008 with the support of the NSW Government and the Australian Medical Association. The campaign raises awareness about risks and preventative measures relating to children falling from windows.
While many parents use some preventative measures against children falling, those measures can be unreliable. “People rely on fly screens as a security measure, but most are a simple nylon mesh, and the whole frame can be pushed out,” said Lauren Cohen, a member of the Working Party for the Prevention of Children Falling From Residential Buildings at the Children’s Hospital.
Education and information are needed to complement the new law, most importantly to explain that children should never be left unsupervised. A huge number of accidental injuries occur when a child is left unattended, or in the care of another child.
“Some parents believe that if they have a window guard, an oven lock or a bath seat, their child can be left alone. But they fall, burn themselves, or drown,” Ms Gayst says. “There is no replacement for proper adult supervision. The Government needs to plan national education and PR campaigns.”
Some concern has been raised about the five-year implementation period. “It isn’t preferable, but it takes time to get the information out and there are costs,” Ms Gayst says. “What should be mandatory earlier is when there are rental properties, with children living in the house; in those cases it should be one or two years.”
The new law will benefit families in rental properties who, often prevented from making holes in surfaces in the past, will now be able to attach non-adhesive safety locks throughout the home.
Although the locks will likely cost no more than $10 each, the costs can mount up for owners of large buildings or multiple properties. “At the very least, the locks need to be tax deductable, as an incentive,” Lauren Cohen says.
New York City law requires landlords to install window guards which act as a barrier preventing children crawling or falling out, and are designed to be easily disabled by an adult in an emergency. The introduction of this law saw a 96 per cent reduction in window falls. It is thus a “very big step forward” for NSW to follow the initiative, with the hope that similar regulations will become mandatory throughout Australia.