Earlier, we talked about how high-rise living can be hazardous to your health. In this first part of a series on safe living up in the sky, we’ll touch on a key method of ensuring that it’s a lot more difficult to get down from your residence the hard way.

The concept is quite simple, really. If a window has openings that are barely big enough to squeeze through, then completely falling out of them will be a lot harder. In addition, having smaller window panels also helps with ease of cleaning. Larger panels require a greater reach to fully wipe from inside the dwelling, increasing the likelihood that someone will lean out too far. This naturally exposes the window cleaner to far greater risk then necessary.

Of course, in the real world, implementing such a concept isn’t as simple, with multiple considerations such as aesthetics, expense and practicality that complicate the design process. However, we believe that the extra thought and consideration required are a small price to pay when compared to the benefits of saving human lives.

We think window openings should not exceed certain dimensions. The size of any individual opening should not be more than 400 mm wide, or 500 mm high, and the lower edge of the opening should not be less than 1 meter from the floor. Windows that have openings less than 100 mm across could be an exception to the minimum-height-from-floor rule, however. The idea is to make it almost physically impossible for an average human to accidently slip through the opening. Even children would require some effort to squeeze or climb through.

These windows, with their narrower panels, are probably hard to fall out of even when full opened

That is not to say that we dislike large windows; in fact, we love ventilation and natural sunlight as much as anyone. Windows can still be of almost any size, but individual openings created by movable panels (such as sliding panels and hinged casements) must adhere to either 400 mm in width, or 500 mm in height. These figures can change, of course, since we arrived at them through basic analysis and critical thinking (taking into account human body size, including children, and ease of cleaning). Comprehensive studies, tests and surveys might be more accurate, but we don’t think our numbers are far off the mark. The sooner we put these types of guidelines in place for new construction, the more lives we can potentially save.

So what kind of windows would fit into the restrictions we have stated? Well, you’d be surprised how many there are. Even existing or traditional designs can, in some cases, be modified to adhere to these restrictions. In Singapore, there are four general types of openable window design, namely casement, sliding, awning and swivel windows, in that order of ubiquity.

Casement windows are one of the most common window types in Singapore, and as such are probably the most easily recognised. These are characterised by panels that swing outward, pivoting on the left or right side of the panel. Often, these come in pairs, with the left panel swinging to the left and the right panel swinging right, to create a large opening. By reducing the size of each panel, they can be made to conform to the maximum size limits.

These casement windows are narrow… and thus much harder to fall out of. A larger window can be designed simply by having more panels.

Sliding windows are also very common in Singapore. These consist of two or more panels that move laterally along tracks in the frame. The size of the panels will generally dictate how large the opening will be. Having some panels immovable will allow for larger windows while still reducing the size of each arperture.

Sliding window line drawing shows how a smaller opening can be created by having a vertical support between each panel

Awning windows can be thought of as casement windows with the pivot or hinge set along the upper edge of the swinging panel. These windows, if properly sized and implemented, can help ease cleaning and promote ventilation, while still having an opening that is too small to easily fall through.

These awning windows have a limited opening range, and thus prevent accidental falls quite well. However they are quite hard to clean. Better hinge design or having 2 smaller panels would alleviate that issue.

Swivel windows, rarely encountered, are windows that have the movable panel rotating along an axis located in the centre of the frame. This axis may lie horizontally or vertically in the plane of the frame. This type of window allows maximum air flow and ease-of-cleaning for a certain size of opening. The disadvantage is that part of the window intrudes into the house when opened.

Alternatives to restricting the window size could be to incorporate a small service ledge and railing outside the window, or using a grill that cannot be opened or moved. This grill would need to be strong enough to withstand a human falling against it, and would then fulfill the restriction on size of window aperture.

Railings provide an additional measure of safety to these large windows

Without legislation – supported by hefty fines and penalties – to back up these measures, human nature (as well as the profit-oriented nature of the market) will cause them to be ignored. Before the cost becomes too high, we should be taking a good hard look at revamping our approach to high-rise safety. In part two, we will discuss designs meant to assist in hanging laundry in safe manner.

Casement and awning type panels in a single window design. A ladder would be required to reach the top awning panels, but due to their small size, will likely not require leaning out of the window to reach

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