Windows and Stairs

The number one hazard for children is falls, which are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries for children in the U.S. About 8,000 youngsters wind up in emergency rooms every day for injuries related to falling, adding up to almost 2.8 million per year. With those statistics in mind, it is worth looking at what can be done to prevent such injuries in the home.

In trying to fathom how so many children can be injured on a daily basis from something as simple as slipping and falling, we need to consider an important factor, which is height. Oftentimes, when observing small children at play, we are amazed at their dexterity and ability to take what looks like a fairly serious tumble and hop right back up, unfazed. Likewise, a slip or fall for most adults, more often than not, leads to little more than a poorly chosen expletive being uttered. However, imagine a small child falling a distance equivalent to the average height of an adult, and we begin to see where the danger lies. With this to consider, let’s take a closer look at two of the most important areas to childproof in a home: windows and staircases.


The first thing that probably comes to mind when examining child safety in relation to stairways and staircases is a safety gate, and with good reason: falling down stairs can be a serious hazard for an infant or toddler who is just learning to navigate his or her surroundings. When properly installed, highquality safety gates can help eliminate this possibility.

Safety Gates

A safety gate is a gate that is temporarily installed in a door or stairway. It allows adults to unlock and pass, but small children will be unable to open it. There are two basic types of gates which differ in the way they are installed. The first type is a pressure-mounted gate. These safety gates are fixed in place by pressure against walls or a doorway. They can be used in doorways between rooms, such as for keeping crawling babies out of a kitchen during cooking, but they are not suitable for keeping kids out of other areas, such as the top of a stairway, where falling could be a risk.

The other type of safety gate, which is recommended specifically for stairways, is hardware-mounted. These gates mount solidly in place with screws but are still easily removable for times when they are unnecessary. A hardware-mounted safety gate will prevent small children from entering stairways where accidents could occur.

When choosing a safety gate, you can refer to established ASTM standards for these products, and some manufacturers also participate in a certification program administered by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). Any gate you choose should meet the ASTM standards, which will ensure that the gate itself poses no hazard to the child. Products that comply with these standards have a sticker on the packaging or on the unit itself.


For parents of children who have outgrown the need for safety gates but are still small and curious, especially those prone to climbing on things, baluster spacing on the handrail becomes a concern. A stairway with four or more risers should have a continuous handrail not lower than 34 inches or taller than 38 inches on at least one side, with balustrades not more than 4 inches apart from each other. If there are spaces between vertical rails or risers that will allow an object larger than 4 inches to pass between them, this should be considered a safety hazard to a child who may try to climb on the railing and may get stuck between the balusters or spaces between the railing and risers.


If the dangers associated with falling are compounded by the height of the fall, then windows can present an even greater concern than stairways. It is estimated that more than 4,000 children are treated every year in emergency rooms for injuries sustained by falling from windows. There have been at least 120 such deaths reported since 1990. Risk of injury from window-related accidents in the home can be minimized by addressing several common issues.

The first and simplest thing to do is to ensure that there is no furniture situated in areas that would make it easy for a child to reach and open or close a window. Any furniture a child could potentially climb on should be moved away from windows.

Latches, Stops and Guards

As children begin to grow to heights where they may be able to access windows from a standing position, it is important to install secure, child-proof latches. There are many types of window latches that, similar to safety gates, will allow an adult to easily open and close the windows, but will prevent kids from doing the same.

Also available are window stops, which will not allow the window to be opened wider than a predetermined width. The recommended opening, similar to balustrade spacing, should not exceed 4 inches. This eliminates the possibility of a child or one of his limbs to pass through. These stops are easily removable by an adult whenever necessary.

An additional option to consider is a window guard. A window guard can be vertical or horizontal. It attaches to a frame and can be removed by an adult, but will deter a child. Guards have some form of bars or beams across them, which should be no more than 4 inches apart. Window guards maintain the functionality of the window while ensuring a child’s safety when the window is open. However, even with a guard installed, kids should not be allowed to play around windows, whether they are open or closed. Try to open windows only from the top, if possible. And never rely on window screens to keep a child from falling through the window, as that is not the function they are designed for.

With some foresight, a few clever and fairly inexpensive products, and proper adherence to building codes, the risk of injury from falling can be successfully minimized. Your Certified Master Inspector® can assess the safety issues in your home and advise you on the most effective childproofing measures to keep your family safe.

Garage Doors And Openers

Garage doors are large, spring-supported doors. Garage door openers control the opening and closing of garage doors, either through a wall-mounted switch or a radio transmitter. Due to the strain that garage door components and openers regularly endure, they may become defective over time and need to be fixed or replaced. Defective components may create safety hazards as well as functional deficiencies to the garage door assembly.

The following facts demonstrate the dangers posed by garage doors:
  • Garage doors are typically among the heaviest moving objects in the home and are held under high tension.
  • Injuries caused by garage doors account for approximately 20,000 emergency room visits annually, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • The majority of the injuries caused by garage doors are the result of pinched fingers, although severe injuries and deaths due to entrapment occur as well. Sixty children have been killed since 1982 as a result of garage doors that did not automatically reverse upon contact.
Methods for testing the automatic reverse system:
  • This safety feature can be tested by grasping the base of the garage door as it closes and applying upward resistance. Homeowners should use caution while performing this test because they may accidentally damage its components if the door does not reverse course.
  • . Some sources recommend placing a 2x4 piece of wood on the ground beneath the door, although there have been instances where this testing method has damaged the door or door opener components.
  • Using a supplemental automatic-reverse system. Garage doors manufactured in the U.S. after 1992 must be equipped with photoelectric sensors or a door edge sensor, such as the following:
    • Photo-electric eyes (also known as photo-electric sensors) are located at the base of each side of the garage door and emit and detect beams of light. If this beam is broken, it will cause the door to immediately reverse direction and open. For safety reasons, photo sensors must be installed a maximum of 6 inches above the standing surface.
    • A door edge sensor is a pressure-sensitive strip installed at the base of the garage door. If it senses pressure from an object while the door is closing, it will cause the door to reverse. Door edge sensors are not as common in garage door systems as photo-electric eyes.
Safety Advice for Homeowners:
  • Homeowners should not attempt to adjust or repair springs themselves. The springs are held under extremely high tension and can snap suddenly and forcefully, causing serious or fatal injury.
  • No one should stand or walk beneath a garage door while it is in motion. Adults should set an example for children and teach them about garage door safety. Children should not be permitted to operate the garage door opener push button and should be warned against touching any of the door’s moving parts.
  • Fingers and hands should be kept away from pulleys, hinges, springs, and the intersecting points between door panels. Closing doors can very easily crush body parts that get between them.
  • The automatic reversal system may need to be adjusted for cold temperatures, since the flexibility of the springs is affected by temperature. This adjustment can be made from a dial on the garage door opener, which should be changed only by a trained garage door technician.
In summary, garage doors and their openers can be hazardous if certain components are missing or defective, or if people fail to use caution while around them during operation.

Trampoline Safety

While health-promoting and fun, trampolines can also be dangerous when they're misused or if they're poorly designed.
  • The first modern trampoline was constructed in 1936 by University of Iowa gymnasts George Nissen and Larry Griswold. Trampoline-like devices have been in use for centuries, however, such as walrus skins used by the Inuit to toss each other into the air.
  • According to the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), an average of 246,875 trampoline injuries that require medical treatment occur annually in the U.S. Of this total, the majority -- 186,405 -- occur among children ages 14 and younger. The most common injuries resulting in hospitalization include fractures to the upper and lower extremities. Catastrophic spine injuries are rare, but head and neck injuries constitute a large portion of the more serious reported injuries.
  • Most reported injuries and deaths are caused by children colliding with each other, landing improperly while jumping or doing stunts, falling off the trampoline, or falling on the trampoline springs or frame.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that home trampolines not be used at all. Parents may consider other forms of activity for their children to enjoy, or visit a commercial trampoline park, whose standards for construction must follow strict safety guidelines.
Trampoline users should practice the following safety tips in order to avoid injury:
  • Allow only one person on the trampoline at a time.
  • Use a trampoline that is located in a well-lit area.
  • Children should never be allowed to jump onto the trampoline from higher objects, such as a tree or roof.
  • Always supervise children who use the trampoline, and never allow a child under the age of 6 to use a full-size trampoline.
  • Leave the gymnastics to the professionals. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission cautions against performing somersaults on trampolines because landing on the head or neck can cause an injury resulting in paralysis. The user should never attempt maneuvers beyond their capability or training.
  • Install a surrounding net. These nets have been shown to reduce the number of injuries from falls off the trampoline, although they are no substitute for supervision, and they do not protect against injuries sustained on the trampoline, according to the Foundation for Spinal Cord Injury Prevention.
  • Safety pads should cover all portions of the steel frame, hooks and springs.
  • Never place the trampoline on concrete or asphalt. It’s wise to apply wood chips or some other soft surface to the surroundings beneath it.
  • Never install a trampoline near structures, power lines, clotheslines, trees, or anything else that may contact a bouncing child.
  • The trampoline should be regularly inspected for tears, rust, and detachments.
  • Safety harnesses and spotting belts, when appropriately used, may offer additional protection for athletes practicing more challenging skills on the trampoline.
  • Trampolines that are set over pits so that the mat is at ground level may be safer because the user will not fall as far if they miss the pad.
  • Do not attach a ladder to the trampoline because it can provide unsupervised access for small children.
Trampolines and Homeowners Insurance

Trampolines are considered by insurance companies to be an "attractive nuisance" -- something that invites trespassers – and, as such, insurers don't automatically provide coverage for them in their homeowners policies. No matter what signs are posted or gates erected, there is always a possibility that a neighborhood child will trespass, get injured on the trampoline, and sue you in court.

Mary Kaderbek of Allstate® Insurance reminds homeowners that "owning a trampoline can affect your homeowners insurance," so they should check their policies or give their agents a call before purchasing one.

Most insurers handle trampolines in one of three ways:
  • No Exclusions: This means that there are no restrictions on owning or using a trampoline on the covered property. While it may be the most desirable coverage, it may not be a standard offering by your insurer.
  • Coverage with Safety Precautions: This type of coverage is for trampolines that have safety features installed, such as padded coverings for springs, a netting enclosure, a locking yard gate, etc.
  • Trampoline Exclusion: The most restrictive clause, this means that trampolines are excluded from your homeowners coverage, so any damage or injury caused by anyone (invited or not) who uses a trampoline on the insured property is not covered. Furthermore, if a homeowner purchases a trampoline after purchasing the policy, the policy may not be automatically renewed.
In summary, trampolines can cause bodily harm -- and financial hardship -- if not used responsibly. And, as with any major purchase for the home, homeowners should check with their insurance carrier to find out what kind of liability they may face by setting up a trampoline in their yard.
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