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Volume 6   Issue 4                May 2005

Code Concerns

Window Safety Initatives Shift into High Gear
by Michael Fischer

The final week in April marked Window Safety Week 2005, but industry efforts to help improve window safety are a year-round proposition. While awareness of the need to educate caregivers about the potential hazards to children playing near open windows is growing, the Window and Door Manufacturers Associationís (WDMA) window safety task group continues its commitment to window safety.

Work on a new project to identify more opportunities to improve the safety of the homes in which we live in is well underway. The National Safety Councilís (NSC) window safety committee (WSC) is working to gather the most up-to-date data on child falls from windows. The WSC includes representatives from diverse groups, including WDMA, NSC, the National Fire Protection Association, American Architectural Manufacturers Association, Sun-room Manufacturers Association, National Association of Home-builders and others. 

Current Analysis
Understanding that windows have more than one safety consideration, the WSC is also reviewing emergency escape and rescue opening requirements to determine if the dimensions found in todayís building codes are valid. The current requirements are based upon studies performed during the 1970s in San Diego. Since that time there have been changes in firefighting equipment and procedures, as well as in the type of personnel utilized in fire departments in the United States. The trend toward professional firefighting and away from the volunteer units in the past is another consideration affecting how windows may serve as rescue openings. Changes in the average size of peopleóresulting from dietary and health improvementsórequire an additional look at emergency escape opening sizes as well. 

Meanwhile, code efforts to require a minimum sill height for elevated windows in residential units continue. During the recent International Code Councilís code development hearings held in Cincinnati, two separate committees heard proposals dealing with this requirement. The committees took different actions, and the International Residential Code building and energy committee (IRC B/E) approved a proposal removing the current requirements while accepting another that modifies the language. The result of these incompatible committee decisions will be considered during the ICC final action hearings scheduled for this fall in Detroit.

The IRC B/E committee did agree that the issue is too complex to be decided upon during two-minute testimony. It passed a resolution recommending the ICC board of directors create an ad hoc committee to study the emergency escape and rescue considerations of windows. This group will also look into child window falls, so the code requirement question of sill height minimums can be addressed.

WDMA members have long maintained that a balanced approach to window safety issues is the best way to deal with these important questions. The number of child fall incidents has been on the decline over the past several decades and that decline parallels a decrease in residential fire deaths to people of all ages. These successes should not be taken lightly. Any change in the application of windows and size selections will affect the role of these products during fire emergencies. 

The appropriate use of window guards, manufactured in accordance with ASTM standards, and warning labels on insect screens can help reduce child falls. The most effective way to reduce child falls from windows, however, continues to be educational efforts. The educational messages that the NSC recommends may be found by visiting http://www.nsc.org/aware/window/index.htm.

Michael Fischer serves as director of codes and regulatory compliance for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association based in Des Plaines, Ill.

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