Continued Progress in Window Safety

Education remains key, but updated standards and WOCDs could help efforts to prevent child falls
By Michael D. Fischer, The Kellen Co.
August 2, 2009
FEATURE ARTICLE | Codes & Standards, Materials & Components

As a product safety engineer and leader of the product safety group for Andersen Windows, and administrator of the manufacturer's “Look Out For Kids” program, Kathy Coen is responsible for safety advocacy and injury prevention efforts. In 2000, her work led to a meeting with Kim Healey, founder of the Timothy Healey Foundation, a child safety advocacy organization named for Kim's son, who died as a result of a fall through an open window.

Healey’s message touched Coen and drove home the need to personalize the issue of child window fall prevention. Together, they began working to explore ideas on how to spread this message.
“Many parents have told me that they ‘just didn’t know’ that open windows could lead to such a tragedy,” says Coen. Her work now focuses on spreading this information to parents and caregivers, often speaking on the subject of child window safety and the need to supervise young children around windows. She often uses the story of Healey's tragedy to illustrate the need for such vigilance in every family.

Coen also serves on child fall safety committees with the National Safety Council and the Minnesota Department of Health. As chair of the ASTM F15.38 committee on window fall prevention devices, she also leads efforts to improve standards for window guards and other products intended to reduce the number of child window falls.

Mike Derham, managing director of Mighton Products USA and a member of the ASTM F15.38 sub-committee, applauds such efforts. “As a manufacturer of window hardware,” he says, “we believe that there is a way that we can help reduce the number of child falls through the use of devices that remind parents that windows should not be open whenever young children are around.”

The International Code Council has considered the problem and looked for ways that building codes might reduce injuries and falls through windows. During debates at code hearings over the past decade, ICC stakeholders have discussed proposals for minimum window sill heights in residential dwellings in order to prevent child falls. The ICC board of directors also directed its code technology committee to study the issue and provide recommendations.

One of the recommendations of the study group was the use of a device, such as a window vent limiter, that could limit the open area of a window sash to less than 4 inches as a means to reduce child falls. The group also suggested that if such a device includes a release mechanism, it could be used on windows serving as emergency escape and rescue openings.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota state legislature considered bills aimed at requiring “safety screens” for all windows installed in new residential buildings. Laela’s Law, as the legislation was known, was introduced in 2006 and became effective July 1, 2009. Representatives of the Window and Door Manufacturers Association successfully lobbied the Minnesota legislature to include window guards, hardware and other devices, and that performance requirements for such window fall prevention screens be consistent with existing ASTM standards for window guards.

As a result of the Minnesota legislation, and the ICC committee recommendations, Andersen’s Coen reconvened the ASTM F15.38 subcommittee in 2007 to revise the standard. ASTM F2090 (2008): Standard Specification for Window Fall Prevention Devices With Emergency Escape (Egress) Release Mechanisms now includes window fall prevention screens and window opening control devices (WOCDs) that provide architectural solutions to child fall prevention.

Unfortunately, the release of the updated ASTM F2090 standard was delayed until after the Minnesota rulemaking process had completed the initial phase, so the state’s law does not yet reference the new standard. With the rule in place, windows in multi-family occupancies in Minnesota that secure permits after July 1 of this year will be required to have a 24-inch minimum sill height if the windows are more than 6 feet above grade. (Note: The state conducted a study that led to a decision to focus the rule on multi-family occupancies. Single-family homes, duplexes and certain townhomes are not required to meet the minimum sill height requirements.) Exceptions for windows that do not open 4 inches or more, or that have ASTM-compliant window guards, are included in the rule. Advocates for the window industry are seeking an interpretation from Minnesota officials to allow devices that meet the new ASTM standard to also be considered as part of the allowable exceptions to the minimum sill height requirement.

Whether they are allowed under the new rules or not, perhaps the most significant development in child window safety is the inclusion of window opening control devices in the new ASTM F2090. Vent limiters have been offered by window manufacturers for years, but they are not intended to provide any benefit beyond limiting the amount of air entering a room. WOCDs take the concept of the vent limiter, but provide additional performance benefits so that they may be used in windows that offer a means of escape or rescue in an emergency.

ASTM-compliant WOCDs allow a window to be opened less than 4 inches, but they also can be released when there is a need to open the window fully, and they reset automatically every time the window is opened. The standard also requires that the devices meet force and cycle testing, and that the installation instructions and user’s guides include necessary details to help ensure they are safely used.

Mighton Products has already developed devices that meet the new standards. “Child window falls are senseless tragedies, since they are so easily prevented,” Derham says. “Mighton is committed to providing the window industry with devices that can play an important role in preventing falls.” Its Angel Ventlock is offered in several versions, including face-mounted and side-mounted options, and retrofit models that can be used on existing windows. “Mighton is working with OEM window manufacturers to develop specific versions of the Angel Ventlock that will provide an elegant solution, and one that is compatible with the operation of the window unit,” Derham adds.


Mighton's Angel Ventlock

As more windows are installed with such products, perhaps there will be a quiet evolution in the way that we open windows. By limiting the window opening to less than 4 inches unless specifically released, these devices might just train parents to think about opening windows when children are around. Nothing can take the place of proper supervision, but window opening control devices can help. If we arrive at the point when no parent can say, “I just didn’t know,” the industry will have made the best possible contribution to child safety.

Michael D. Fischer is a code and regulatory consultant with The Kellen Co., a consulting firm based in New York City. He has been an actively involved in the window safety issue for 10 years, representing the Window & Door Manufacturers Association at code hearings, working with public safety groups and speaking with government officials. He can be reached at 315/420-8208 or