x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Landlords told: make homes safe for children

The Government is implementing preventative child safety measures in buildings, a step lauded by experts after a spate of fatal falls from windows.

Tracy Fountain, the founder of Back to Basics, a Dubai-based child injury prevention and paediatric first aid company, says the availability of the best child-proofing products for homes is “somewhat limited”.
Tracy Fountain, the founder of Back to Basics, a Dubai-based child injury prevention and paediatric first aid company, says the availability of the best child-proofing products for homes is “somewhat limited”.

ABU DHABI // The Government is implementing preventative child safety measures in buildings, a step lauded by experts after a spate of fatal falls from windows.

Beginning early next year, the emirate will start to enforce new building codes that mandate windows open no more than 10 centimetres, in accordance with international standards.

The Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) is also working on developing regulations that will require landlords to install window locks in flats where young children live.

"These tragedies, they could happen to anyone," said Yasmeen Saadah, the acting division director of municipal regulations at the DMA.

"The aim, the main objective, of the building code and of the work of the DMA is safety."

Property owners would be required to install Government-approved window locks, according to a special clause written into lease contracts. Regular inspections by Civil Defence would ensure compliance, officials said.

Ms Saadah said the DMA expected both moves would be in place by the first quarter of next year.

Five children have fallen to their deaths from high-rise buildings in the past three weeks. In September, a distraught mother jumped to her death from a flat in Jumeirah Lakes Towers after her five-year-old son fell out the window.

Child safety experts said that small steps such as securing windows and moving furniture away from balconies would help cut down on accidents, but that more awareness is the key.

"More important than what goes on the windows is making sure parents have the proper awareness and education," said Dr Taisser Atrak, the chairman of paediatrics at Mafraq Hospital.

"The whole idea is that injury prevention here in the UAE is possible, and we want to train all caregivers in child safety."

Dr Atrak is teaming up with other local experts to form a committee that will explore best practices in children's safety, particularly at home and on the roads.

The committee, which should be operating in January, also plans to review and recommend the best child-proofing products for homes.

"The products that are available, they are somewhat limited," said Tracy Fountain, the founder of Back to Basics, a Dubai-based child injury prevention and paediatric first aid company, and a committee member.

"Because of the way these buildings are, I think these products need to be tailor-made."

Ms Saadah said the DMA has already reviewed the window locks they intended to approve for use in flats, and handouts on suppliers and prices will be distributed to property owners.

Dr Michal Grivna, an associate professor and injury prevention researcher at UAE University, said more safety inspections and updated building codes - what he called "passive protection" - were essential to reducing accidental deaths.

"This is the challenge in the UAE, especially now in the winter, when the windows are open," Dr Grivna said. "Of course, supervision is very important, but no one can supervise all the time. Passive protection is just as important as active protection, like parents making homes safer and raising awareness."

The child injury prevention committee will also launch an online community portal that will allow residents to communicate with experts and seek their advice.

"We have to look at dangers, and we have to be UAE-specific," Dr Atrak said. Window and balcony safety will be at the top of the committee's agenda.

An awareness campaign, similar to the push to provide car safety seats to new parents, will be a crucial component of future efforts. Establishing an environment of safety will go a long way towards preventing accidents, experts said.

Municipal regulations and restrictions by building owners make it difficult for tenants to modify their own flats, but Ms Fountain said simple steps would be the basis of the committee's recommendations.

"I tell parents, 'Don't open the windows if you don't need to'," she said. "If the child sees that the windows can be opened, they will think to try it themselves."

The committee hopes to share their findings with government departments, developers, real estate agents and carpenters.

The DMA plans to launch a full outreach campaign focused on home safety "within days or weeks" in collaboration with other government partners, Ms Saadah said.

jthomas@thenational.ae