Parents reading or hearing the miraculous story of 15-month-old Musa Dayib, who survived a fall from an 11-story balcony at the Riverside Plaza apartments in Minneapolis last May, undoubtedly felt their hearts in their throats. A parent’s worst nightmare – his father was out of the room for less than a minute before Musa wandered out to the balcony, slipped between the railings, and fell. Despite being injured, Musa, whose fall was cushioned by mulch, didn’t have a serious head wound.
Although it may seem unlikely, “unintentional injuries – such as those caused by burns, drowning, falls, poisoning and road traffic – are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children in the United States,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics states that “in the United States, approximately 140 deaths from falls occur annually in children younger than 15 years. Three million children require emergency department care for fall-related injuries.”
So what can you do to prevent your child from falling from a hotel or apartment balcony?
MINNESOTA BALCONY CODE SPECS
Current Minnesota building code requires balconies to have a minimum height of 42 inches and a maximum space between slats of 4 inches, according to Patrick Higgins, a building official for the City of Minneapolis. However, it’s important to note that some older buildings are grandfathered, required only to meet standards that existed during their time of construction. In Musa Dayib’s case the Riverside Plaza’s balcony more than met MN code for buildings constructed before 1983, with a 5.5 inch gap during a time that only required 9 inches.
It has since been established that most children under ten can squeeze through a six inch opening. Bottom line: Code doesn’t necessarily equate safety.
HOW TO PREVENT BALCONY FALLS
Never allow children to be out on a balcony alone or unsupervised.
Don’t let children play on, or near, a balcony even if you are present.
Make sure the balcony railing is sturdy, but instruct your children never to lean on, or climb it.
Don’t leave items on the balcony that kids can climb.
Look for furniture or other items near the balcony that could easily be dragged over to it. Relocate these items if necessary.
Always keep the door to your balcony closed (even if you’ll only be gone for a few seconds).
Lock the balcony door when it’s not being used. Consider installing a childproof lock.
For sliding-glass doors, wedge a piece of wood, cut to exact measurement, between the door and the frame so that even if a child unlocks the door they can’t open it.
If you’re staying in a hotel with a balcony, ask the hotel staff what services or items the hotel has available for preventing children to access the balcony.
For kids old enough to understand, talk to them about the dangers of balconies. It might cause them to think twice before doing something foolish.
Musa Dayib is a rare exception to the norm – most children who fall from balconies are not so lucky. The best course of action when it comes to balconies is to not tempt fate, but rather take the steps necessary to ensure your child’s safety.