Volume 7, Issue 10 - November 2006


ICC Hearings Reopen Window Safety Efforts
by Michael Fischer

During the recent Inter-national Code Council (ICC) code development committee hearings, held in Orlando, Fla., in late September, the ICC committees heard more than two thousand separate code proposals affecting the International Codes.

One item considered was a proposal that would require the installation of emergency escape ladders at all exterior windows above the first floor. While the code proposal was fraught with inconsistencies and technical errors, both committees that heard the debate rejected the basic premise that the proposal would solve the problem of residential fire deaths. With continued concern about falls from buildings, the proponent was unable to answer the concern about fall safety. There is little doubt that the proposal will be resurrected in future code cycles, but in its present form is unlikely to gain support.

Three-Step Plan 
Code proposals intending to improve public safety should be held to a simple set of standards. First, identify a problem. Next, identify a solution. Finally, demonstrate that the cure isnít worse than the disease. Trading one safety concern for another, especially one with potentially far greater consequences, isnít the answer. Whether considering issues related to passive fire protection, the role of windows in emergency escape and rescue, child window falls or other safety issues, the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) has consistently advocated a balanced approach to multiple concerns.

The issue of child falls from open windows has also re-emerged within the ICC arena. During the past code cycle leading up to the 2006 I-Codes, the ICC committee charged with hearing building and energy proposals affecting the International Residential Code (IRC) passed a resolution requesting the ICC board of directors form an ad hoc committee to study child falls. The creation of an ad hoc committee would allow a more thorough review of child falls and an in-depth analysis of all the factors associated with the role windows play in home safety. A similar request for a study commission at the ICC was made by WDMA in 2004. The ICC board did not respond to either the WDMA request or the IRC committee resolution. 

During the spring of 2006, however, the ICC board did in fact take up the subject of child window falls. Prompted in part by a child window fall in suburban Detroit, the ICC board approved a motion directing the ICC Code Technology Committee (CTC) to study the issue. The CTC agenda includes several regulatory issues that deserve greater consideration than is possible during code development hearings, where proponent testimony is limited to two-minute sound bites. Areas under study by the CTC include balanced fire protection, climbable guards, carbon monoxide detection and other safety related subjects.

The CTC scope includes a plan ďto study the incidence and mechanism of falls from open windows by children and to investigate the necessity and suitability of potential safeguards and/or revisions to the current codes.Ē 

In the review of child falls, the CTC will study:

  • Pertinent code development history;

  • Child fall data and statistical information;

  • Factors associated with falls; 

  • Identifiable risk factors;

  • Availability of appropriate national standards;

  • Costs involved with safety strategies;

  • Probable impact statement of any code proposals; and

  • Development of code proposals if appropriate and justified.

As WDMA director of codes and regulatory compliance, I have been appointed to serve on the CTC study group and serve as liaison to the National Safety Council sponsored window safety task force. WDMA and its members have long led the way in window safety advocacy, and through participation in the CTC work will continue that responsible advocacy.

Michael Fischer of the Kellen Company serves as director of codes and regulatory compliance for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association. He may be reached at MFischer@wdma.com.

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