SOURCE | news.com.au | Marnie O’Neill
The latest near-tragedy came just last night, when a toddler plunged three storeys from a Sydney apartment balcony, saved only by the trees below. In NSW alone, about 50 children – most under the age of five – fall from high rise residential buildings every year.
Australian Medical Association (NSW) president, Associate Professor Brian Owler, wants the NSW Government and strata bodies to make it illegal for apartment windows to open wider than 10cm. This could be achieved through the mandatory fitting of window locks, which can be picked up for as little as $5 from any hardware store, he said. Similar legislation introduced in New York had resulted in an incredible 94 per cent reduction in the number of injuries related to children falling from apartments.
“In New York the law was changed so that you couldn’t have children in your apartment unless you have these safety devices attached to the windows,” Prof Owler said. The AMA has been in talks with the NSW Department of Fair Trading and Strata Community Australia (NSW) since last year to try and get the same law introduced in NSW.
“Strata bodies are interested because they know there’s a question of liability but things are not moving as quickly as they could,” Prof Owler said. “This latest case (in Sydney last night) involved a fall from a balcony but most children fall through windows. There have been cases of children with beds pushed up against windows who have bounced on the bed and right out of the window.”
On May 1, changes to the Building Code Australia (NSW) will come into effect making it a requirement that windows be fitted with locks preventing windows from opening wider than 12.5cm – wider than the 10cm proposed by the AMA. However, the new law will only apply to new buildings.
“It cannot be applied retrospectively so we still face this safety issue in existing buildings,” Kidsafe NSW executive officer Christine Erskine said. “It’s also not the 10cm restriction that we would be happiest with although it’s a step in the right direction.”
Prof Owler is also unhappy with the 12.5cm compromise. In his capacity as a paediatric neurosurgeon at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, he is, after all, the man who puts many of these children back together again. “Sometimes it’s just broken bones but there are some significant injuries and a few deaths as well,” he said. “Over the years I’ve seen serious head injuries that result in lifelong disabilities that require full-time care. Some have suggested that for a child and their family, that can be a fate worse than death. “All parents should buy these window locks immediately, don’t wait for it to become law. The longer we wait, the greater the number of children who will die or suffer injury. They’re very cheap and they could save your kid’s life. Highrise falls are a seasonal thing – they mainly happen in the summer months and that means children are at risk right now.”
Strata Community NSW president David Ferguson said he shared concerns that the new law would not be applied retrospectively but said the move represented “huge progress”. “In terms of the 12.5 cm rule versus the 10cm rule, I think that arguing over 2cm is really not what this is about,” he said. “This is not going to stop children from injuring themselves in the home. How do you police it? How do you stop people from pushing objects up against balconies or windows that enable the kids to climb high enough to fall out or fall off? “There needs to be a holistic approach to the whole child safety issue at home.”
Prof Owler called on other states to take action. “The issues for NSW, particularly Sydney, are the same for other cities with high density housing like Melbourne and Brisbane,” he said. “Wherever there are children in houses that are more than one story high, I think, it’s an issue for everyone.”