Monday, November 26, 2007

Child Safety in the Home - Who is responsible?

Everyone knows that the building code is intended to protect the homeowner and his/her family...right? Wrong. Building codes are intended to provide a greater measure of safety for the greater good of an entire community. They only protect an individual by default. They are not a quality assurance manual and they do not lessen the responsibility of the individual to ensure his/her own personal safety.

That said, occasionally individual protection for specific classes of individuals sometimes finds its way into a code. Recently the code was amended (2006 International Residential Code) to include provisions to "protect" children from falls from high windows. The change will require guards over the windows if the window sill is not placed at least 24 inches above the floor. This will apply to any window with an opening height more than 72 inches above the ground below. This was approved based on anecdotes of children falling through open windows. Many were seriously injured or even killed by these accidental falls. Now the building code will protect these children...or will it?
What typically happens under high windows? Furniture is placed underneath it. When a window is raised from 18 inches above the floor to 24 inches, the typical response is to place the bed under the window. Do children use their beds for sleeping? Sometimes. The other times it is used as a trampoline.
Did moving the window sill up to 24 inches provide for a safer condition in this home? Hardly. Does the building code REALLY protect your children? Think again.
Parents are still responsible for assessing the safety of their home when they have small children. Once junior is mobile, the first thing you do is plug up those electrical outlets to avoid electrocution. One of my earliest memories as a child was testing an outlet for functionality using a paper clip. I got to experience alternating current first hand and learn a lesson that I have never forgotten.
There are other things to consider. How about the things stored under the kitchen sink? Some cleaning chemicals are given fragrances that smell like peppermint candy and are enticing to children. How about the toilet seat? Many drownings result due to children falling into the open toilet and not having the ability to pull themselves back out. What about mommy's bottle of sleeping pills on the bathroom counter? What about daddy's loaded Beretta in the night stand? All of these constitute items that pose significant hazards to your children, yet will never be regulated by a building code. Each is your responsibility as a parent to identify and address.
So the moral of this story is never be complacent. Do not think for a minute that the building code will take care of your kids' safety. Look around your home and identify anything that could be a threat. Take advantage of the multitude of websites that provide child-safety tips. Take parenting responsibility seriously and don't ever trust a government official who tells you, " Don't worry, the code will protect you".

1 comment:

Tom Meyers said...

As I predicted when this first was placed in the code, additional window sill height is forthcoming. It appears that the 2012 International Building Code will now require 36" high window sills minimum in exchange for window fall prevention devices (guards). Again, I predict that children will continue to fall from these windows also if the parent is not cognizant of the child fall potential. Furniture will inevitably be placed under these windows and will serve as a ladder to the top of the sill. Problem STILL not solved.

BTW - The 2012 Residential Code will retain 24" high sills.