OHSU Kicks Off Campaign to Prevent Window-Fall Injuries

05/31/02    Portland, Ore.

OHSU study shows 70 percent of window-related injuries happen during the summer

Shauna McCaw learned the hard way that parents need more education about window-fall safety. Her 9-year-old son, Joshua McCaw, suffered a broken arm after falling from his second-story bedroom window. Like many parents, Shauna never made window-fall safety a priority before the accident. "I had thought about window safety before, but I really didn't know what to do about it," said Shauna.

Physicians within the Oregon Health & Science University Trauma/Critical Care Section and Pediatric Surgery Sections frequently see injuries related to window falls. In response to an OHSU study that shows window fall injuries sharply increase during summer months, OHSU's Trauma/Critical Care Section, in collaboration with Doernbecher Children's Hospital, is beginning a summer campaign to help prevent potentially devastating falls. The Prevent Window Falls Injury Program is aimed at educating parents about the risks and dangers of window falls, and how to avoid them.

According to the OHSU Trauma/Critical Care Section study:
  • The number of children who fall out windows has tripled in the last 10 years. Falls increased 39 percent in just one year -- 1999 to 2000.
  • The study looked at 80 children, aged 6 years and younger, treated at the OHSU Emergency Department from 1993 to 2000.

"These accidents may result in brain damage with permanent and, at times, devastating secondary injuries," said Mark Silen, M.D., chief of surgery in OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital and head of the Division of Pediatric Surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine.

According to the study, which was funded by the Trauma Education and Research Fund of the OHSU School of Medicine's Department of Surgery, most children fall out of windows because they are climbing on furniture near the window. Children can easily lean against the screen and push it out the window, or they can fall out an open, unscreened window. "As temperatures increase during the summer months, parents are more likely to open their windows for ventilation and are unaware of the potential danger," said Slone Pearson, senior research assistant, OHSU Trauma/Critical Care Service.

In Joshua's case, the fall occurred as he was laying on top of clothes piled in a laundry basket that was resting on his desk near his bedroom window. The aluminum-framed window screen could not withstand the force of his weight when the basket slipped, sending him out the window to the ground below. Fortunately, he suffered only a broken left arm. Shauna knows it could have been much worse.

"Joshua's window overlooks our yard. On one side is a fence and a pile of bricks I had just moved out from under his window, on the other side is a plastic playhouse. Thankfully he didn't land on any of those," said Shauna.

The OHSU Trauma/Critical Care Section offers the following advice to prevent window-related falls:

  • Lock unopened doors and windows.
  • Keep furniture and anything a child can climb on away from windows.
  • Screens are designed to keep bugs out, and are not strong enough to keep children in. Do not count on them to protect your child.
  • Teach your children and their caregivers window and home safety.
  • Install child-safety window guards.

"Prevention is the key to avoiding these potentially serious injuries. Anything that parents and families can do to avoid this type of fall is helpful and can potentially eliminate them all together," said Silen.

Shauna feels the same. "What I would say to other parents is to listen to your intuition. I had the concern, but I didn't follow through with it. I had seen stories on the news about it, but I didn't make it a priority to do anything about it. One little mistake can change your life forever. I am much more aware of window safety now."

###