Minggu, 20 November 2011

Think child safety

We've had a few warm days, and there's more to come as summer rolls around. For the Children's Hospital at Westmead, it's also peak season for kids being injured from falls from buildings, as people open up their windows and balconies.

With that in mind, the NSW State Government has recently launched a public education campaign to make people aware of the dangers of windows and balconies and what you can do to make them safer.

The first thing is just that: be aware. Go and have a look at your windows and balcony now. When you enter a room with a child, make it a habit to do a quick scan of the windows. When you're visiting friends and relatives over the holidays, make a check of the windows and balconies the first thing you do when you arrive.

In particular, the things to look out for are:
  • Windows that can be opened more than 10 cm. You'll want to put a lock or some other barrier on these. For ordinary aluminium sliding windows, this is usually pretty straightforward: one or two of these clamp-style locks should do the trick.

For other types of windows, you may have to consider something more permanent, like a lockable bolt or a lockable winding chain, or some form of barrier, like bars (not more than 10 cm apart). An ordinary flyscreen is not a safety barrier - they keep flies out, not kids in.
  • Balconies that have a balustrade less than 1 m high, or that has horizontal elements. The danger of a low balustrade is obvious (it's easy for adult to overbalance over these, too). What is surprising is just how many balustrades - including new ones, as pictured below - have horizontal elements, which essentially serve as a handy ladder for children.

You'll want at least some kind of barrier - glass, perspex or even a heavy mesh - covering the inside of this sort of balustrade. And, in any case, a proper lock on the door to the balcony.

  • Furniture and fixtures near windows and on balconies. Chairs, beds, tables, toilets, baths, toy boxes, planter boxes... you can find any number of things, both moveable and fixed, that kids can use to boost themselves up and over a window sill or balustrade. And keep a look out for things that aren't near a window - but which a child could drag over to one.

Whether you own or rent, there's a lot you can do yourself to make kids safer around windows and balconies. Watch them. Arrange the furniture away from the windows and balconies. Use those clamp locks, if that suits your windows. If your windows already have locks that allow them to be locked open, lock them open to 10 cm, no more, if kids are about.

If you're a tenant and more needs to be done to make your windows and balconies safer, consider asking your landlord to install some new locks, or a barrier, or a better balustrade. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 that you can point to that specifically requires window limiting devices that can be set to no more than 10 cm.... but the premises do have to be in a reasonable state of repair, and fitted with locks and other devices to make the premises reasonably secure. You can point to these to get defects fixed, and you might suggest that if they're doing work anyway, they might as well do it so that you can lock the windows open to 10 cm, etc.

Alternatively, you can ask if you can get the work done at your own expense. Because fitting locks or barriers will invariably be a minor alteration, your landlord cannot refuse consent unreasonably. Depending on the work, this can be expensive, but you might also think it is a small price to pay to prevent an awful injury - or worse.

(But - and this is our own education campaign directed at politicians and policymakers - how easy it is for tenants to think, 'getting windows locks fitted is expensive... and we don't know how long the landlord will let us stay here... we could spend several hundred dollars getting work done and then have to move out in three months... I'll just try to keep an eye on the kids all the time....' Far better to amend the Act to specifically require that landlords install window limiting devices, and make a safer rental housing sector for everyone.)