Window safety: learning the lessons from a tragic accident in Haringey

Following a tragic accident in 2019 and the subsequent Inquest, Homes for Haringey has implemented changes to the way we deal with window maintenance to prevent such an accident happening again. The purpose of this briefing is to tell as many landlords as possible what happened, so they can take steps to avoid a similar tragedy in their own stock.


Summary of events

  • In 2019 a toddler tragically died after falling from the living-room window of a high-rise Haringey Council block, managed by Homes for Haringey.
  • A few days before this, out of hours operatives from Homes for Haringey attended to make the window safe pending a full repair of the opening and closing mechanism.
  • The operatives left the window securely closed, pending a full repair of the mechanism, but they did not leave the window in a condition that would have made it impossible to open it.
  • Furniture beneath the window meant the toddler could get access to it. Although independent expert evidence stated that a toddler would not have been able to open the window from a securely locked position, they could reach the window ledge if the window was already open.
  • The faulty window had a “tilt and turn” mechanism. The fault meant that the window could open when it was in tilt mode. It also meant that the window did not naturally fall closed when left in an open position with the restrictors disengaged.
  • In 2020 the Coroner concluded that the fatal accident would not have happened if the window had been rendered unopenable.
  • Homes for Haringey already had a policy of treating window repairs as emergencies so that faulty windows will be made safe as soon as operatives can attend. It now has a proactive policy of window maintenance in high-rise blocks, and ensures operatives leave windows with faulty mechanisms unopenable pending full repair.
  • Homes for Haringey has also informed residents in tall blocks about the risk of having a faulty window mechanism, and encouraged them to report repairs urgently.

Background

A few days prior to that incident, the tenant reported a problem with the lock on the living-room window. Two repairs operatives attended the property and assessed the window. One operative pulled the window shut and put the window handle in a locked position. The window was tested by pulling rigorously on the handle to ensure it could not open while in the locked position. The tenant declined an offer to board up the window pending a permanent repair.

As a result of the accident, and within a few days, Homes for Haringey commenced visiting all high-rise blocks under its management to ensure that all windows were in proper working order. Windows are checked, lubricated, and adjusted or repaired. This programme continues, and all properties in tall buildings are checked no less than every 5 years. Performance against target for this programme is reported to the Board of Homes for Haringey alongside other measures of building safety, for example gas safety and fire risk assessments.

Haringey Council reported the incident to the Regulator for Social Housing.

The Building Research Establishment (BRE) was commissioned by the Police to check the functionality and condition of the windows at the property. BRE concluded that:

  • No evidence was found that the incident window, when properly locked, could spontaneously open.
  • A fault in the window enabled the tilt and turn modes to be operated simultaneously. This prevented proper closing of the window without repetitive turning of the handle and cyclical lifting of the sash. An occupant might find this very difficult to do, but maintenance staff were likely to be able to achieve it.
  • Lack of maintenance (mainly lubrication) may have prevented the sash from self-engaging with the restrictor when closing under its own momentum.
  • The load required to open the sash when disengaged from the restrictor, in turn mode, could even have been reached under the effect of wind.
  • A settee, with the height of just under 900mm, was located immediately below the incident window.

All residents in tall buildings were written to directly to remind them of the importance of window safety and encouraging them to report all faults promptly.

Through a range of communication channels, Homes for Haringey continues to inform and remind residents about window safety.

All operatives have been instructed that, when an accessible window needs a repair to its restrictor, closing mechanism or any fault that renders the window liable to open, the window must be left so that it cannot be opened by any person until a full repair is carried out. There are a range of devices that can be used, depending on the window type; operatives have been issued with these. If it is not possible to use such a device, operatives have been trained to disable the handle mechanism or board the windows so the window cannot be opened pending the full repair.

These instructions and revised working practices should ensure that even an intermittent fault will not create any risk in the period before the full repair is carried out.

Recommendations

All landlords should consider the circumstances of this dreadful accident and make sure that the lessons learned by Homes for Haringey and Haringey Council are implemented in their own policy and practice. 

We recommend:

1. All landlords ensure that all faulty window mechanisms are treated as urgent repairs.

2. If a faulty window mechanism cannot be fixed, the window should be left so that it cannot be opened until a full repair is carried out.

3. Operatives who attend window repairs should be issued with devices that prevent the window being opened. If such a device cannot be fitted, operatives should be trained to leave the mechanism in a condition that prevents the window being opened until a full repair is carried out.

4. Pro-active window maintenance in tall buildings, which is reported alongside other measures of building safety compliance. Performance against target for this programme should be reported alongside other measures of building safety compliance.

5. Residents should be kept informed about the risks of faulty window mechanisms, and how to report them.

6. The risk associated with a lack of lubrication and the potential fault that allows a window to open when it is in “tilt” mode should be noted so that residents and operatives appreciate the risk associated with a faulty mechanism.

Further information

We believe it is essential that all landlords are aware of the potential consequences of faulty window mechanisms, and the simple steps that can prevent tragic accidents. We are happy to discuss our experience and what we have learned with individual landlords or in relevant forums. Please contact any of the following officers if you would like any further information:

Thank you very much for your interest in keeping residents safe, and please do not hesitate to get in touch if you wish to discuss any aspect of building safety with us.

Sean McLaughlin
Managing Director
Homes for Haringey
[email protected]