Fall from window incidents are rare, but often seriousby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The death of an infant in St. Paul highlights the dangers of window falls for young children.
Police are still investigating the death of 11-month old Ilhan Hassan, but believe it to be an accident. Hassan was one of several children playing on a bed near a window before she died.
The girl's fatal fall from a window is the first in Minnesota in three years and just the fourth in the last decade, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
But as rare as such falls are, they're still serious, said John Roesler, an epidemiologist who tracks injuries and trauma for the state.
"2010 was the greatest number of reports we've received for severe injuries resulting from a fall from a window and that was 21 cases," Roesler said.
A national study by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission found about half of the 3,300 kids who fall out of windows each year suffer serious injuries. On average, there are about eight deaths a year.
Experts say the discrepancy highlights one of the difficulties of the problem: it isn't very well documented. Deaths and injuries may be recorded only as a fall or as the resulting trauma, and not as a fall from a window.
In Minnesota, the health department said the spike in falls reported last year may just be a result of better documentation.
However, the numbers remain comparatively small.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said 810 kids died in U.S. traffic accidents in 2009, the last year for which numbers are available. That's at least 100 times the toll from window falls. Eleven kids died in Minnesota crashes last year.
Nonetheless, safety advocates continue to address the dangers of window falls.
In New York City, officials reported that window falls declined from more than 200 to about 80 in the two years following passage of a window guard ordinance in 1976.
Minnesota has a law since 2009 that requires some new and remodeled residences to have windows that prevent falls. The law is not retroactive nor does it cover single-family homes. Recent state law also includes reporting requirements to better track incidents.
The 40-year-old Skyline Towers building on Interstate 94 doesn't have central air conditioning, and tenants often open their windows for ventilation. The residents who lived in a ninth-floor apartment where an infant girl fell to her death on Tuesday evening may have simply been trying to cool off.
But the owners of the building said a screen covered the window the girl fell from. Deb Lande is spokeswoman for CommonBond Communities, the non-profit housing provider that owns the 24-story apartment high-rise.
"This window was inspected as of July 14, and the screens were intact," Lande said.
She also said that the windows have safety features and are secured with locks and screens that do not open. The screens are replaced as needed when reported to the building management, Lande said.
Pediatric injury specialists said it's what's inside a home, rather than its windows, that amounts to the best prevention.
"Oftentimes, furniture is placed under windows, a couch or a bed. And kids are sometimes allowed to play and climb and jump on those, and they don't realize always that the window is open," said Julie Philbrook of the Hennepin County Medical Center. "Sometimes there is often a false sense of security, if there is a screen in the window."
- All Things Considered, 08/03/2011, 4:54 p.m.