Dangers of Asbestos After a Fire or Natural Disaster

Special thanks to guest blogger – Kaitlin Wilson

 

Asbestos has been used for its heat and fire-resistance properties dating back to ancient Rome. However, the mineral that was once used for its resistance against fire is also a potential hazard should a fire or a natural disaster happen. The fire-proofing properties of asbestos are a double-edged sword. A building full of asbestos can collapse after a fire, sending dust laden with the dangerous fibers into the air. Should any other natural disaster occur, such as a flood or tornado, homes and buildings built prior to the 1980s’ may send out millions of asbestos fibers into the air.

 

Asbestos Use in Homes and Buildings

 

After the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned people of the dangers of asbestos fibers in the 1970s’, homes and buildings were eventually built without using asbestos. However, prior to the early 1980s’, asbestos was used quite a lot in homes, buildings, at job sites, and in products. Today, should a natural disaster or fire break out and come into contact with any structure that contains asbestos, its fibers, which as aforementioned are fire and heat-resistant, can become airborne and travel for several miles.

 

According to the EPA, in the summer of 1993, the community of Lincoln County, Missouri experienced a devastating flood that left over 50,000 people without homes, and several others with broken appliances, household items, automobiles, and more. As a result, county staff were responsible for disposing of the debris. After investigations, it was found that a good majority of the debris, specifically car parts, shingles, wood, and home insulation, was riddled with asbestos fibers. This of course, posed risks to the entire community.

 

Preventative Actions

 

Although no one knows for sure when a natural disaster will strike, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that taking proactive measures beforehand will reduce the risk of asbestos ingestion when and if a disaster occurs. For example, if waste hazards need to be burned after a disaster, proper precautions should be used at all times:

 

  • Shower facilities should be available to all workers.
  • The general public should be warned about the work being performed.
  • Coolant vests, face masks, and other safety equipment should be utilized.
  • Burnup and cleaning sites should always meet federal and state guidelines.
  • Local authorities should always be on-board to help meet regulations and safety issues, such as the local fire department and emergency response team.
Asbestos Victims

 

Anyone who has been diagnosed with asbestos cancer or another asbestos related disease is advised to seek legal assistance due to the complex nature of these cases. The Mesothelioma Lawyer Center has in-depth information on asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, and legal information for each of the 50 states, including information on asbestos exposure in Missouri.

 

Sinkholes Abundant in Missouri

 nixa sink hole

A recent article written by Jose Rey (SinkholeReport.com), identifies Missouri as No. 7 in the United States as having the most sinkholes.

According to the article, the states with the most sinkholes are Florida, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

 

www.publicadjustermissouri.com

New Scam Law Protects Missouri Seniors

     The following is a recently enacted Missouri law that protects seniors from certain scams regarding contractors.

     Up until 8/28/12, a building or remodeling contractor could intentionally deceive a homeowner and steal money intended for materials and/or labor for unnecessary work and similar scams and, if successfully located, be sued.  Typically, the contractor (after losing a lawsuit) would file bankruptcy to avoid paying the judgment, change the name of his company and move on to other potential victims.

     With a new law that recently makes the financial exploitation of a senior a felony, a contractor who performs such acts can be arrested if his victim is 60 years old or older.  After his arrest, his ability to make restitution and repay the money to his victim could get him a lighter sentence.

     Missourians who encounter such scammers should contact their local law enforcement officials, immediately.

Missouri Revised Statutes
Chapter 570
Stealing and Related Offenses
Section 570.145

August 28, 2012

Financial exploitation of the elderly and disabled, penalty–definitions–certain defense prohibited, additional violation, restitution.
570.145. 1. A person commits the crime of financial exploitation of an elderly or disabled person if such person knowingly by deception, intimidation, undue influence, or force obtains control over the elderly or disabled person’s property with the intent to permanently deprive the elderly or disabled person of the use, benefit or possession of his or her property thereby benefitting such person or detrimentally affecting the elderly or disabled person. Financial exploitation of an elderly or disabled person is a class A misdemeanor if the value of the property is less than fifty dollars, a class D felony if the value of the property is fifty dollars but less than five hundred dollars, a class C felony if the value of the property is five hundred dollars but less than one thousand dollars, a class B felony if the value of the property is one thousand dollars but less than fifty thousand dollars, and a class A felony if the value of the property is fifty thousand dollars or more.

2. For purposes of this section, the following terms mean:

(1) “Deception”, a misrepresentation or concealment of material fact relating to the terms of a contract or agreement entered into with the elderly or disabled person or to the existing or preexisting condition of any of the property involved in such contract or agreement, or the use or employment of any misrepresentation, false pretense or false promise in order to induce, encourage or solicit the elderly or disabled person to enter into a contract or agreement. Deception includes:

(a) Creating or confirming another person’s impression which is false and which the offender does not believe to be true; or

(b) Failure to correct a false impression which the offender previously has created or confirmed; or

(c) Preventing another person from acquiring information pertinent to the disposition of the property involved; or

(d) Selling or otherwise transferring or encumbering property, failing to disclose a lien, adverse claim or other legal impediment to the enjoyment of the property, whether such impediment is or is not valid, or is or is not a matter of official record; or

(e) Promising performance which the offender does not intend to perform or knows will not be performed. Failure to perform standing alone is not sufficient evidence to prove that the offender did not intend to perform;

(2) “Disabled person”, a person with a mental, physical, or developmental disability that substantially impairs the person’s ability to provide adequately for the person’s care or protection;

(3) “Elderly person”, a person sixty years of age or older;

(4) “Intimidation”, a threat of physical or emotional harm to an elderly or disabled person, or the communication to an elderly or disabled person that he or she will be deprived of food and nutrition, shelter, prescribed medication, or medical care and treatment;

(5) “Undue influence”, use of influence by someone who exercises authority over an elderly person or disabled person in order to take unfair advantage of that persons’s vulnerable state of mind, neediness, pain, or agony. Undue influence includes, but is not limited to, the improper or fraudulent use of a power of attorney, guardianship, conservatorship, or other fiduciary authority.

3. Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the remedies available to the victim pursuant to any state law relating to domestic violence.

4. Nothing in this section shall be construed to impose criminal liability on a person who has made a good faith effort to assist the elderly or disabled person in the management of his or her property, but through no fault of his or her own has been unable to provide such assistance.

5. Nothing in this section shall limit the ability to engage in bona fide estate planning, to transfer property and to otherwise seek to reduce estate and inheritance taxes; provided that such actions do not adversely impact the standard of living to which the elderly or disabled person has become accustomed at the time of such actions.

6. It shall not be a defense to financial exploitation of an elderly or disabled person that the accused reasonably believed that the victim was not an elderly or disabled person.

7. (1) It shall be unlawful in violation of this section for any person receiving or in the possession of funds of a Medicaid-eligible elderly or disabled person residing in a facility licensed under chapter 198 to fail to remit to the facility in which the Medicaid-eligible person resides all money owing the facility resident from any source, including, but not limited to, Social Security, railroad retirement, or payments from any other source disclosed as resident income contained in the records of the department of social services, family support division or its successor. The department of social services, family support division or its successor is authorized to release information from its records containing the resident’s income or assets to any prosecuting or circuit attorney in the state of Missouri for purposes of investigating or prosecuting any suspected violation of this section.

(2) The prosecuting or circuit attorney of any county containing a facility licensed under chapter 198, who successfully prosecutes a violation of the provisions of this subsection, may request the circuit court of the county in which the offender admits to or is found * guilty of a violation, as a condition of sentence and/or probation, to order restitution of all amounts unlawfully withheld from a facility in his or her county. Any order of restitution entered by the court or by agreement shall provide that ten percent of any restitution installment or payment paid by or on behalf of the defendant or defendants shall be paid to the prosecuting or circuit attorney of the county successfully prosecuting the violation to compensate for the cost of prosecution with the remaining amount to be paid to the facility.

(L. 2000 H.B. 1386 & 1086, A.L. 2003 S.B. 556 & 311, A.L. 2005 H.B. 353, A.L. 2012 S.B. 689)
*Word “of” appears here in original rolls of S.B. 689, 2012.

Copyright 2013 James H. Bushart

Missouri Public Adjuster

How to Get a Missouri Occupancy Permit

By James H. Bushart

www.publicadjustermissouri.com

In certain municipalities in Missouri, property damage that requires extensive repair will also require permits and inspections for the work.  Prior to moving in to a new home, many areas will also require occupancy permits prior to allowing a new buyer or renter to reside within the home.

The following links are provided as a service to assist home owners in locating the offices that can assist them to ensure that their contractors are properly licensed, that the required permits are obtained and that the necessary inspections are provided.

Here are links to many of the Saint Louis County (and some other) municipality websites or contact information.

Saint Louis area Zip Code map

Saint Louis City – 314.622.4000 (General Information number)

Saint Louis County – 314.615.5000 (General Information number)

Affton – Chamber of Commerce site – 314.849.6499

Aurora

Ballwin – 636.227.8580

Bella Villa – 314.638.8840

Bellefontaine Neighbors – 314.867.0076

Bellerive – 314.382.5337

Bel Nor – 314.381.2834

Bel Ridge – 314.429.2878

Berkeley – 314.524.3313 ext. 2052 (Housing Inspector Patrick Mullen)

Beverly Hills – 314.382.6544

Black Jack – 314.355.0400

Breckenridge Hills – 314.427.6868

Brentwood – 314.962.4800

Bridgeton – 314.739.7500

Calverton Park – 314.524.1212

Champ – 314.738.0772

Charlack – 314.427.4715

Chesterfield – 636.537.4000

Clarkson Valley – 636.227.8607

Clayton – 314.727.8100

Cool Valley – 314.521.3500

Country Club Hills – 314.261.0845

Country Life Acres – 314.739.4800

Crestwood – 314.729.4720

Creve Coeur – 314.432.6000

Crystal Lake Park – 314.993.1160

Dellwood – 314.521.4339

Des Peres -314.835.6100

Edumndson – 314.428.7125

Ellisville – 636.227.9660

Eureka – 636.938.5233

Fenton – 314.615.5000

Ferguson – 314.521.7721

Flordell Hills – 314.382.5524

Florissant – 314.921.5700

Frontenac – 314.994.3200

Glen Echo Park – 314.382.7355

Glendale – 314.965.3600

Grantwood -314.842.4409

Greendale – 314.383.2664

Green Park – 314.894.7336

Hanley Hills – 314.725.0909

Hazelwood – 314.839.3700

Hillsdale – 314.381.0288

Huntleigh – 314.446.4248

Jennings – 314.388.1164

Joplin

Kinloch – 314.521.3335

Kirkwood – 314.822.5823 – Number for Inspections & Permits

Ladue – 314.993.3439

Lakeshire City of Lakeshire website – 314.631.6222

Mackenzie – 314.752.0625

Manchester – 636.227.1385

Maplewood – 314.645.3600

Marlborough – 314.962.5055

Maryland Heights – 314.291.6550

Moline Acres – 314.868.2433

Monett

Normandy – 314.385.3300

Northwoods – 314.385.8000

Norwood Court – 314.382.8176

Oakland – 314.416.0026

Olivette – 314.993.0252

Overland – 314.428.4321

Pacific – 636.271.0500

Pagedale – 314.726.1200

Pasadena Hills – 314.382.4453

Pasadena Park – 314.383.0010

Pine Lawn – 314.261.5500

Richmond Heights – 314.646.7658

Riverview – 314.868.0700

Rock Hill – 314.968.1410

Saint Ann – 314.427.8009

Saint George – 314.631.1295

Saint John – 314.427.8700

Saint Louis City – 314.622.4000

Saint Louis County – 314.615.5000

Shrewsbury – 314.647.5795

Sunset Hills – 314.849.3400

Sycamore Hills – 314.426.5750

Town and Country – 314.432.6606

Twin Oaks – 636.225.7873

University City – 314.505.8560

Uplands Park – 314.383.1856

Valley Park – 636.225.8930

Velda City – 314.382.6600

Velda Village Hills – 314.261.7221

Vinita Park – 314.428.7373

Vinita Terrace – 314.427.4488

Warson Woods – 314.965.3100

Webster Groves – 314.963.5300

Wellston – 314.553.8000

Westwood – 314.727.0101

Wilbur Park – 314.631.3963

Wildwood – 636.458.0440

Winchester – 636.391.0600

Woodson Terrace – 314.427.2600

Copyright 2013 James H. Bushart

Compost Pile Hazards

Compost is an accumulation of degrading food scraps, plants and other nutrient-rich organic matter.  It is an easy and environmentally responsible way to dispose of biodegradable kitchen waste, which can then be returned to the soil as fertilizer for vegetable and flower gardens.
Compose pile

Composting is Good

  • Composting helps to reduce the volume of material in landfills.
  • Compost is used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients for growing plants.
So, what’s wrong with composting? The benefits of the practice are generally well-known, but few people are actually aware of the potential hazards and dangers composting can pose.
Diseases Contracted From Handling Compost
Compost can be a breeding ground for dangerous pathogens, some of which have killed or seriously harmed unsuspecting gardeners. Inspectors should familiarize themselves with these illnesses, some of which can be contracted in other parts of the house. Listed below are some of the more common physical ailments that can result from unprotected contact with compost:
  • Aspergillosis is a fungal infection of the lungs that is caused after the inhalation of a fungus commonly found in rotting plant matter. While normally not life-threatening, aspergillosis can be extremely dangerous if enough spores are inhaled. The disease killed a 47-year-old British man after he was engulfed in clouds of dust from the compost he had intended to use in his garden.
  • The symptoms of Farmer’s Lung resemble pneumonia, and may result from respiratory exposure to certain fungal and bacterial pathogens present in rotting organic materials, such as mushrooms, hay and sugar cane. Beware of dusty white patches, as they are a sign that dangerous spores are present. Farmer’s Lung can usually be treated with antibiotics.
  • Histoplasmosis is caused by fungus that grows in guano and bird droppings. Healthy immune systems can usually fight off histoplasmosis, although infections can become serious if large amounts of the toxin are inhaled, or if the infected person has a weakened immune system.
  • Legionnaire’s Disease is a respiratory infection that’s caused by the inhalation of L. Longbeachae.
  • Paronychia is a local infection that occurs in the tissue around the fingernails and toenails. Prolonged moisture and the abrasive effects of soil can create openings in the skin that allow the infection to occur, producing pain and throbbing.
  • Tetanus is a disease of the central nervous system that’s caused by bacteria that is very common in soil. While even a minor cut can allow the bacteria to enter the bloodstream, immunizations against tetanus are quite common.
How to Avoid Potential Hazards of Composting
The following general safety precautions should be followed in order to avoid transmission of dangerous fungi, bacteria and other pathogens found in compost:
  • Always wear dry, breathable gloves to avoid direct contact with the skin, and to protect yourself from injury while using gardening tools and implements.
  • Wear protective footwear that covers your skin adequately to avoid direct contact with compost.  Do not wear them anywhere except outdoors.
  • When stirring and tilling the compost, which is required on a regular basis in order for it to process and break down, always wear a nose and mouth guard or dust mask to avoid inhaling the various spores that will become airborne during tilling and turning.
  • Avoid tilling on windy days.
  • Do not store compost in fully closed or airtight containers.  Without any air, it can actually become combustible.
  • Wash your hands after dealing with compost. While this suggestion may sound obvious, many garden enthusiasts get so absorbed with their activities that they forget the potential dangers from poisoning.
  • If you develop a severe cough or infection of the skin (especially if there is an open sore or puncture wound), seek medical attention immediately.  You may require antibiotics or a tetanus shot.
Compost Fires
Surprisingly, a great deal of heat is created by the microbial activity, which is occasionally enough to cause a fire.  In August 2009, aThis compost fire self-ignited compost pile spontaneously combusted at the Saginaw Compost Facility in Saginaw, Michigan. However, these fires are extremely rare, as they occur only under a limited set of circumstances that would ordinarily be avoided using common sense.
According to the Alberta, Canada’s Department of Agriculture, the following key conditions must be met in order for a compost pile to light itself on fire:
  • dry materials that go unattended;
  • biological activity;
  • dry pockets of debris among a non-uniform mix of materials;
  • large, well-insulated piles;
  • limited air flow;
  • poor moisture distribution due to neglect or oversight in monitoring; and
  • unknown temperature within the pile, and time for the temperature to build up.

WARNING: While self-incineration of compost is possible, compost piles probably catch fire more often from ordinary sources, such as lit cigarettes or electrical mishaps. Also, gardeners who use ash from incinerated trash or the fireplace sometimes neglect to make sure that the ash has cooled sufficiently before adding it to the compost pile.

Inspectors can offer their clients the following tips to help avoid compost fires:

  • Assure adequate ventilation of the pile to release heat. Turn the pile or use a mechanical aeration system to ensure ventilation. Narrow, short piles generally have adequate ventilation.
  • Do not turn a pile that is smoldering, as the sudden infusion of oxygen can cause the pile to erupt into flames.
  • Do not let the pile get too dry. The University of Missouri states, “Organic material can ignite spontaneously due to biological activity at moisture contents between 26 to 46% moisture, if the temperature exceeds 200° F.”
  • Monitor the pile’s temperature, focusing on the hottest spot in the pile. Use a thermometer long enough to reach the center of the pile.  Do not let the pile get too hot. If the temperature of the pile exceeds 160° F, reduce the temperature through the following methods:
    • reduce the size of the pile;
    • add water to 55% moisture;
    • mix in coarse, bulky material, such as wood chips; and
    • do not pile compost next to buildings or any flammable structures, as fire can spread easily.Snakes and other pests are fans of compost piles
Compost-Friendly Pests
Worms are often added to compost piles to aid in the breakdown of organic matter.  But if the compost piles are not constructed and maintained properly, they have the tendency to attract unwanted pests. Flies, termites and beetles are attracted to the smell of decay, and they, in turn, will attract larger predatory critters to the pile. Use the following pest-control tips:
  • Do not compost eggs, meat, oils, bones, cheese or fats.  Compost piles should be “vegetarian.”
  • Bury the compost with soil or leaves to contain the smell and to aid with the biodegrading process.
  • If using a portable composter, make sure it has a cover that will discourage the entry of pests and animals.
  • Beware that enclosed compost piles can overheat and create high levels of dangerous gasses, such as methane, so be sure to rotate the container or till the pile daily.
  • Do not place compost near a building. In addition to the fire concerns, compost placed adjacent to buildings can promote infestation.
NOTE:  These practices can also mitigate the foul smells that can plague compost piles.
In summary, the benefits of compost piles can be quickly eclipsed by health hazards and nuisances if they are not designed correctly and maintained properly
by Nick Gromicko and Rob London

 

Carpet Mold: Identification, Prevention and Removal

The Dangers of Mold

Molds produce allergens, which are substances that can cause allergic reactions, as well as irritants and, in some cases, potentially toxic substances known as mycotoxins.  Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.  Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis).  Allergic reactions to mold are common.  They can be immediate or delayed.  Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold.  In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people.  Symptoms other than the allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold, but can also occur.

Carpet at Risk

Carpeting is an area of the home that can be at high risk for mold growth.  In order to grow, mold needs moisture, oxygen, a food source, and a surface to grow on.  Mold spores are commonly found naturally in the air.  If spores land on a wet or damp spot indoors that contains dust for them to feed on, mold growth will soon follow. Wall-to-wall carpeting, as well as area rugs, can provide an ample breeding ground for mold if conditions are right.  At especially high risk for mold growth are carpeting located below ground level in basements, carpet in commonly moist or damp climates, and carpet that has been wet for any period of time.

Identifying Mold in Carpeting

Just because mold is not immediately apparent or visible on a carpet’s surface does not mean that mold growth is not in progress.  In fact, mold will probably only be visible on the surface of carpets in unusually severe cases of growth, such as carpet damaged in flooding that has remained wet for some time.  The following are some examples of identifiable instances where mold growth has occurred or is likely to occur:

  • visible mold growth:  As stated above, this can be a rare case, but sometimes it may be obvious from visual inspection that mold growth is occurring.  Carpet in this condition is most likely not salvageable and should be disposed of and replaced.  Often, even if mold growth is not visible on the top of carpeting, it may be occurring underneath the carpet where it can’t be easily seen.  Carpet suspected of containing mold should always be examined on both sides.
  • carpet mildew:  Any discoloration or odor on carpeting that might be described as mildew is probably a case of mold.
  • wet or water-damaged carpet:  Any carpet that has been subjected to water damage from flooding or standing water will most likely need to be disposed of.  Conditions are ripe for mold growth, in this case.  Even if visibly apparent mold growth has not yet begun, it is highly likely to happen unless the carpet is completely removed, cleaned and dried within 24 to 48 hours.  Even then, removal and cleaning are not guaranteed to prevent mold growth.  It is more likely that the carpet will need to be replaced.
  • wet padding beneath carpet:  If padding beneath the carpet has become wet for any reason, or has become moist from condensation, the padding as well as the carpet on top are at risk for mold growth.  The padding may need to be replaced, as will the carpet, in some cases.
  • basement carpet:  Carpeting in basements below grade level is especially at risk in areas where humidity is high, or where wide temperature swings can produce condensation.
  • odors and stains:  There is a wide range of things that can cause odors and stains on carpets.  If mold is suspected, samples can be taken and sent for analysis to determine if mold growth has occurred.

Preventing Mold Growth in Carpeting

The best method for combating mold is to not allow mold growth in the first place.  The best way to do so is by ensuring that conditions conducive to growth do not exist.  Below are some ways to prevent mold growth in carpets.

  • Reduce indoor humidity.  The use of dehumidifiers will help control moisture in the air, depriving mold spores of the water they need to grow into mold.  A range of 30% to 60% humidity is acceptable for interiors.
  • Install intelligently.  Do not install carpeting in areas that are likely to be subject to frequent, high moisture.  Carpet in a bathroom, for example, will quickly turn to a breeding ground for mold growth due to the high humidity from constant water use in that area.
  • Choose high-quality carpet padding.  Solid, rubber-slab carpet padding with anti-microbial properties is available.  It is slightly more expensive than other types of padding but can be helpful for preventing the growth of mold, especially in climates prone to periods of high humidity.
  • Never allow standing water.  Carpet exposed to standing water will quickly be ruined.  If standing water ever occurs because of a leak or a spill, all carpeting exposed must be immediately cleaned and dried.  The top and bottom surfaces of the carpet, any padding, and the floor underneath must be cleaned and completely dried within a short period of time after exposure to standing water if the carpet is to be saved.  If a large flood has occurred, or if standing water has been present for any extended period of time, the carpet will probably need to be replaced.
  • Clean smart.  When carpeting needs to be cleaned, try to use a dry form of cleaning, when possible.  If any water, liquid, or other moisture has come in contact with the carpet during cleaning, be sure it is dried thoroughly afterward.

Removing Mold From Carpet

In many cases, if mold has grown on carpet, cleaning will not be possible.  If growth has occurred on more than one area of the carpet, or if there is a large area of growth, the carpet will probably need to be replaced. 

Small areas of growth that have been quickly identified can sometimes be dealt with.  Detergent and water used with a steam-cleaning machine may be enough to clean the carpet thoroughly.  It is then important to ensure that the carpet dries completely after cleaning to prevent the growth from recurring.  Stronger cleaning agents can be substituted if detergent does not work.  Anything stronger than detergent or common rug-cleaning products should first be tested on an inconspicuous area of the carpet to ensure that the rug will not be damaged during cleaning.  About 24 hours is a reasonable amount of time to wait after testing to be sure that wider cleaning will not discolor or damage the carpet.

Another option in instances where mold growth is not widespread is to remove the ruined section of the carpet.  If cleaning has been attempted unsuccessfully, the area of mold growth may be removed and replaced with a patch of similar carpet.  Of course, this will only work in situations where aesthetics are not a big concern, since exactly matching the patch to the original carpet may be difficult and the seam may be visible.  If mold has grown in more than one area of the carpet, or if the area of growth is larger than a couple of feet, this will probably not be an effective method of mold removal.
As with all areas of the interior at risk for mold growth, prevention is the best method of control for carpet mold.  Eliminating high-moisture conditions and preventing the risk of flooding or standing water will reduce the possibility of growth.  Inspectors will want to know where to look for and how to identify mold growth in carpeting.  It is also helpful to know how to determine if carpet should be replaced, or whether there is a possibility of cleaning and saving it.
by Nick Gromicko and Ethan Ward

Child-Proofing Windows and Stairs

The Number One hazard for children is falls, which are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries in the U.S. for this age group.  About 8,000 youngsters wind up in emergency rooms every day for injuries related to falling, adding up to almost 2.8 million per year.  With those statistics in mind, it is worth looking at what can be done to prevent such injuries in the home.

In trying to fathom how so many children can be injured on a daily basis from something as simple as slipping and falling, we need to consider an important factor, which is height.  Oftentimes, when observing small children at play, we are amazed at their dexterity and ability to take what looks like a fairly serious tumble and hop right back up, unfazed.  Likewise, a slip or fall for most adults, more often than not, leads to little more than a poorly chosen expletive being uttered.  However, imagine a small child falling a distance equivalent to the average height of an adult, and we begin to see where the danger lies.  With this to consider, let’s closer look at two of the most important areas to childproof in a home: windows and staircases.

STAIRCASES

The first thing that probably comes to mind when examining child safety in relation to stairways and staircases is a safety gate, and with good reason: falling down stairs can be a serious hazard for an infant or toddler who is just learning to navigate his or her surroundings. When properly installed, high-quality safety gates can help eliminate this possibility.

Safety Gates  

A safety gate is a gate that is temporarily installed in a door or stairway.  It allows adults to unlock and pass, but small children will be unable to open it.  There are two basic types of gates which differ in the way they are installed.  The first type is a pressure-mounted gate.  These safety gates are fixed in place by pressure against walls or a doorway.  They can be used in doorways between rooms, such as for keeping crawling babies out of a kitchen during cooking, but they are not suitable for keeping kids out of other areas, such as the top of a stairway, where falling could be a risk.

The other type of safety gate, which is recommended specifically for stairways, is hardware-mounted.  These gates will mount solidly in place with screws but are still easily removable for times when they are unnecessary.  A hardware-mounted safety gate will prevent small children from entering stairways where accidents could occur.

When choosing a safety gate, you can refer to established ASTM standards for these products, and some manufacturers also participate in a certification program administered by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.  Any gate you choose should meet the ASTM standards, which will ensure that the gate itself poses no hazard to the child.  Products that comply with these standards will have a sticker on the packaging or on the unit itself.

Railings 

For parents of children who have outgrown the need for safety gates but are still small and curious, especially those prone to climbing on things, baluster spacing on the handrail becomes a concern.  A stairway with four or more risers should have a continuous handrail not lower than 34 inches or taller than 38 inches on at least one side, with balustrades not more than 4 inches apart from each other.  If you have spaces between vertical rails or risers that will allow an object larger than 4 inches to pass between them, they should be repaired because they pose a risk to a child who tries to climb on the rail or gets stuck between them.

WINDOWS
If the dangers associated with falling are compounded by the height of the fall, then windows can present an even greater concern than stairways.  It is estimated that more than 4,000 children are treated every year in emergency rooms for injuries sustained by falling from windows.  There have been at least 120 such deaths reported since 1990.  Risk of injury from window-related accidents in the home can be minimized by addressing
several common issues.
The first thing and simplest thing to do is to ensure that there is no furniture situated in areas that would make it easy for a child to reach and open or close a window.  Any furniture a child could potentially climb on should be moved away from windows.
Latches, Stops and Guards
As children begin to grow to heights where they may be able to access windows from a standing position, it is important to install secure, child-proof latches.  There are many types of window latches that, similar to safety gates, will allow an adult to easily open and close windows, but will prevent kids from doing the same.

Also available are window stops, which will not allow the window to be opened wider than a pre-determined width.  The recommended opening, similar to balustrade spacing, should not exceed 4 inches.  This eliminates the possibility of a child or one of his limbs to pass through.  These stops are easily removable by an adult whenever necessary.

An additional option to consider is a window guard.  A window guard can be vertical or horizontal.  It attaches to a frame and can be removed by an adult, but will deter a child.  Guards have some form of bars or beams across them, which should be no more than 4 inches apart.  Window guards maintain the functionality of the window while ensuring a child’s safety while the window is open.  However, even with a guard installed, kids should not be allowed to play around windows, whether they are open or closed.  Try to open windows only from the top, if possible.  And never rely on window screens to keep a child from falling, as that is not the function they are designed for.
With some foresight, a few clever and fairly inexpensive products, and proper adherence to building codes, the risk of injury from falling can be successfully minimized.
by Nick Gromicko and Ethan Ward
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