Volume 9, Issue 2 - February 2008

code concerns

Window Fall Update 
Legislative and Code Bodies Consider Window Safety
by Mike Fischer

When the Minnesota State legislature decided to take up the issue of child window falls during last year’s sessions, the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) became involved to help provide a voice of reason and help ensure that the legislation would help reduce deaths and injuries from child falls.

Minnesota Considers Legislation to Prevent Window Falls 
Sparked by two separate incidents in the Minneapolis area, and dubbed “Laela’s Law,” the intent of the bill was to reduce child falls by requiring safety screens in all residential occupancies. WDMA members, however, were concerned with several parts of the bill, most notably the potential unintended consequence of effectively blocking window openings from use as emergency escape openings during residential fire events because of the presence of such security screens. WDMA also responded to the technical provisions of the bill, including force requirements, which likely would not have prevented a child fall. 

As part of a coalition formed to help guide passage of the bill, WDMA worked with other stakeholders, including the Builders Association of Minnesota (BAMN), the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI), and the Association of Minnesota Building Officials (AMBO), as well as interest from the multi-family housing interests in Minnesota. Through the efforts of this coalition, the bill was amended to indicate that the DLI should amend the state building code to allow all types of window fall prevention devices—including guards as well as security screens—as long as they comply with standards developed by ASTM. The language, as passed, also required that DLI undertake a rulemaking process to update the Minnesota building code. Another provision in the bill called for the Minnesota Department of Health to perform a review of child window fall-related serious injuries and deaths, in order to measure the effectiveness of the bill, as well as step up safety awareness efforts. WDMA is hopeful that this three-pronged approach will have the best possible outcome and the most positive effect possible on reducing child falls in Minnesota.

As a result of WDMA efforts, and participation on the DLI window safety committee, the rule as drafted would require that builders furnish ASTM-compliant devices in windows for multi-family occupancies. This requirement, coupled with the educational efforts focusing on the existing housing stock, is the best response to the legislative mandate.

ICC Tackles Fall Prevention as Well 
Meanwhile, the International Code Council (ICC) also has been considering the issue of how best to prevent child window falls. The ICC board of directors delegated the issue to the ICC Code Technology Committee (CTC) for further study and recommendation. The CTC created a scope of work, and then formed a study group to delve into the available data. Unfortunately, due primarily to a lack of funding, the CTC study group has performed little research into the issue to-date. Relying upon a related study of guards and climbability, the study group decided to recommend that the CTC propose an increased minimum sill height of 36 inches as a floor modification to a related proposal, slated for the current ICC code development cycle. Dissenters to the recommendation noted that the climbable guard study did not relate directly to window openings, and that the data in the study was in conflict with child window data published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), yet the study group recommendation prevailed. 

There is a lack of available data on child window falls, due in part because the incidents are infrequent in comparison to other household accidents. This lack of detailed data makes it difficult to respond to emotional arguments. Other successes, including escapes through windows during residential fires, are not reported typically. Trying to quantify the positive role windows play in emergency escape and rescue is indeed a daunting task. Stepping up industry-led efforts to quantify all aspects of the safety issues related to windows is paramount to effective debate. 

ASTM F15 Committee Updates “Window Guard” Standards
The ASTM committee on window fall prevention devices, led by chair Kathy Coen of the Andersen Corporation, has been working over the past year to update two ASTM documents that provide technical performance requirements for “window guards” and other types of window fall prevention devices. In part because of the Minnesota legislative effort, and the ICC sill height debate, the ASTM F15.38 subcommittee has completed draft revisions to both ASTM F2006 and ASTM F2090, which expands the scope of the documents to include security screens that might be employed as a barrier to child falls. While the standards were never intended to limit available products to only a guard type of device, these revisions will more carefully spell out the important criteria necessary for screens.

The committee also is developing requirements for “window opening control devices” that will allow the caregiver to set the window opening more easily at less than four inches, a dimension recommended by the CPSC as well as the ICC. These devices, typically used to control ventilation, may bring some additional benefit to child fall safety. The committee included performance requirements for method of operation and other considerations when expanding the standards to include window opening control devices. The standards will be available for review and balloting before the ASTM committees. 

For more information, visit www.astm.org.

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. Mr. Fischer’s opinions are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this magazine.


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