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Dear Editor

 

It was with great sadness that we read the headlines recently about yet another instance of falling from height due to serious health and safety breaches within a hospital environment.

 

The case I refer to is that of Southend University Hospital, which was prosecuted on 1st July for an incident in which a vulnerable pensioner fell to his death from a third storey window after being admitted for a bladder operation.

 

It was reported that, following surgery, the elderly patient was clearly disoriented, to the point he was moved to an individual room – with a security guard stationed outside – for, and I quote, “his own safety”. Tragically, the window in this room was only fitted with a single restrictor, enabling the patient to climb through the window and fall nine metres to the ground.

 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) cited the hospital’s arrangements for managing the risk of falls from windows as inadequate, having fitted only a single angle bracket restrictor, which was bent to one side on the window in question, allowing it to be fully opened. More worrying still is that this is by no means the first incident of its kind within the healthcare sector.

 

In light of this, the case of Southend Hospital is even more tragic, and even more frustrating in that this patient’s death and others like his, were completely avoidable. According to figures from the HSE, in the years 2008-2011 there were 50 incidents involving falls from windows in the healthcare sector, 12 of which were fatal. Yet the simple, inexpensive measure of installing an adequate restrictor hinge would be is enough to prevent injury or loss of life from a fall.

 

The British Standard BS 8213 states that safety restrictors must be fitted to accessible openings where there is a risk of falling. These should limit movement so that a window cannot be opened initially beyond 100mm and should be releasable only by manipulation not normally possible by a child under five years. Conversely, if restrictors are fitted on windows suitable as a means of escape in face of fire, then they must not only achieve said requirements, but do so without the occupant having to spend excessive time searching for the release mechanism in the case of a fire. Additionally, Health Technical Memorandum HTM 55, contains detailed guidance on the fitting of window restrictors, with which all healthcare organisations should make themselves familiar.

 

Hardware suppliers for healthcare projects are more than aware of the requirements involved and can advise on each project individually, so if there is any uncertainty, we are the people to contact to ensure efficient measures are put in place to prevent tragedies such as this from happening in the future.

 

Grant Stratford,

Technical Director, Securistyle

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