Care home fatality: Window and balcony safety recap

Published: 13 Jun 2017

With the warmer weather now here, we recap our advice around window and balcony safety.

Whilst it is appreciated that during the warmer months hotel guests will want to aid ventilation and access balconies, it is important to ensure that this is achieved without compromising safety.

Things can and do go wrong with consequences leading to possible death. In a recent reported case, a care home company has been fined almost half a million pounds after an elderly resident fell from her first floor window and died.

Guildford Crown Court was told that the 87-year-old was staying at the Coppice Lea Nursing home in Surrey, which is owned and managed by Caring Homes Healthcare Group Limited. In the early hours of 3 October 2013, the woman fell about four metres through her window. The HSE investigation found that the window restrictor in place, which normally prevents the window from opening fully, was easily overridden and therefore not fit for purpose.

It is imperative that as a business you make a precautionary judgement as to the safety of windows and balconies. This is a health and safety obligation and should be facilitated through the completion of a risk assessment.

If windows and balconies are designed in the same way throughout a building, then a general assessment may be sufficient in identifying potential hazards such as persons or objects falling, evaluating the likelihood of this happening and detailing how controls help reduce it further.

If, however, building design / age means that window styles vary specific assessments may be required for specific areas.

It can be extremely costly to eliminate the hazard associated with windows and balconies and may require the securing of openings and therefore major investment in air conditioning equipment. This is generally an unreasonable investment to make. A risk assessment, however, with sensible and proportionate controls is not.

It just takes one incident such as a fatal accident, to bring the negative attention of the media onto your business, even if the building integrity is sound and management procedures are in place.

Factors to consider when evaluating risk associated with windows and balconies: (the list is not exhaustive)

  • The height above ground level of the window / balcony.
  • The integrity and condition of the window / balcony fabric
  • The positioning of furniture / planters near windows / balconies
  • The level of supervision / management control in the vicinity of the window / balcony
  • The smoking policy (does this give rise to unauthorised smoking in areas that compromise safety?)
  • The nature of the clientele – families, children, students. Behaviour patterns and alcohol / substance abuse
  • Existing levels of signage / information on safe use
  • Maintenance / housekeeping checks and records.

Action recommended

 Complete or review separate risk assessments on the use of windows and (where applicable) balconies

  • Ensure that window restrictors are fitted correctly on windows that could be a risk if opened. It is recommended that windows open no more than 100mm.
  • Ensure that there is a method in place for checking that the restrictors are operating effectively. Housekeeping staff should have this on their room servicing checklist.
  • Balconies must meet building regulation requirements with a handrail of 1.1m, infill to avoid objects falling and designed to inhibit climbing on horizontal sections.