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Experts call to narrow risk in windows

Jen Thomas

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ABU DHABI // Windows that open wide at the bottom are popular in the UAE, but they can be dangerous for children if preventative measures are not taken, experts say.

After a spate of accidents in which children have fallen to their deaths from windows, home-safety experts and builders said this week that top-hung windows, which swing open at the bottom, should not be allowed to open more than 10 centimetres.

Also called awning windows, they are common on the glass-facade buildings that dominate the country's skylines. But the size of the openings is not regulated.

"Top-hung windows can be safe even without a lot of investment," said Markus Erhardt, the tendering manager for Folcra Beach, a maker of aluminium architectural facades, doors and windows in Abu Dhabi.

"In fact, normally the top-hung window is not as dangerous as a side-hung window because the opening should be regulated. Surely there is a need for making stricter regulations."

This week, the Government announced it would begin enforcing new building codes early next year that will require windows open only to the internationally recommended 10cm.

Mr Erhardt said the prevalence of top-hung windows could be attributed to the local preference for smooth facades.

"It's mostly an aesthetic choice," he said. "What I've realised in my many years here is that people prefer to see only glass. Also, whatever sticks out of a facade will gather dust on it.

"No one wants something that will always look dirty."

The Department of Municipal Affairs is working to implement rules for property owners that will require flats with occupants younger than 10 to have window locks installed.

"In offices it's OK to have these top-hung windows, but residential buildings should have windows that are more safe and secure," said Joginder Singh Bimbh, the sales manager for the Sharjah manufacturer Tamco Windows and Doors.

Five children have fallen to their deaths from high-rise buildings in the past three weeks, all in Sharjah.

Mr Singh Bimbh said his company recommended tilt-and-turn windows, which open inwards.

"If people want the more safe option they go for the tilt-and-turn style, because it's much harder for kids to fall out," he said.

"We have to wait and watch, because we hope that tilt-and-turn will be more popular than top-hung."

The developer Aldar Properties already follows international standards on new projects.

Andrew Broderick, the head of environment, health, safety and sustainability at Aldar, said window and balcony safety were priorities for the company.

"In the residential apartments that Aldar has built within developments such as Al Raha Beach, there are no windows that open," Mr Broderick said.

"The nature of modern and efficient air-conditioning systems means it is simply not required."

In buildings where windows do open, Aldar installs restrictors that keep them from opening more than 10cm.

"These integrated controls are not easily disabled and would have to be intentionally removed by an adult," Mr Broderick said.

Window makers, builders and safety experts agreed the most important way to prevent accidents was better education for parents and caregivers.

Norm Labbe, a health, safety and environment specialist for Good Harbor Consulting, said the Government's new regulations were just one part of creating a safe environment.

"I think the Government can set standards and regulations through building codes, but from a home-safety perspective the parents have to take responsibility," Mr Labbe said.

Increased home inspections and awareness workshops at schools would also be a crucial addition to any government-run safety campaign, he said.

Owners of properties developed by Aldar receive a packet on health and safety, which includes information and recommendations on parental supervision on balconies and community facilities such as swimming pools and marinas.

Future community newsletters will also feature a section on window safety.

Charles Constantin, the managing director of GEZE Middle East, a developer and manufacturer of door, window and safety systems, said education should start at the building phase.

"Building codes are a very good start but there needs to be more direction towards training people in safety, at every building, at every warehouse, at every construction site," Mr Constantin said.

The new building codes will apply to new projects after the first quarter of next year.

In the meantime, simple fixes including window stoppers and inside screens should help to reduce accidents.

"You need to have legislation but until then you can take steps as a parent," Mr Labbe said.

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