Once in a great while you see a story in the news that goes something like this: A person who happened to be in the right place at the right time caught a young child who was falling out a window. Thanks to the quick thinking of the passerby, the child survived and was returned to his parents unharmed.

But in reality, that lucky catch is the exception to the rule. More than 5,000 children a year are treated in emergency rooms after falling out of windows. Of those, about 65 percent are age 4 and younger, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics that examined 19 years of data. And, sadly, about eight children in that age group die each year from window falls, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

As logic would dictate, the higher the window, the more severe the injuries suffered by the children. What’s clear from the Pediatrics study, and from child safety advocates, is that the overwhelming majority of those injuries were preventable.

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There’s no need to keep all your windows shut tight on a beautiful spring day or in the dog days of summer. But do take these steps to avoid a tragic accident.

  • If you're replacing your windows, consider double-hung windows that can be opened from the top for ventilation rather than the bottom, so your child can’t crawl (or fall) through the opening.
  • Keep windows locked when they’re closed. And if your windows have them, use the built in window stops, which should limit how far a bottom window can open to four inches.
  • Invest in window guards if you have a window 12 feet or more off the ground or if you want to keep windows open wide and have kids in the house. Window guards, which are typically made out of metal, are designed as a safety device, not as a crime-prevention tool, and are typically screwed into the window frame. The guards should have a childproof quick-release mechanism so the window can be opened in case of emergency. Because windows vary in size, so do window guards. Be sure to get the appropriate size for the windows in your home.
  • Create soft landing areas outside windows. A simple way is to plant bushes or beds of plants below the windows.
  • Make sure doors — especially sliding doors, where little hands don’t need to twist doorknobs — that lead to above-ground decks are locked.

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And finally, two things not to do:

  • Don’t rely on the window screen to serve as fall prevention. Screens are not designed to hold much weight and are not intended as safety devices. Their job is to keep out the bugs, not keep in the kids.
  • Don’t nail a window shut. While it would likely prevent a child from falling through, it is not an appropriate or safe solution. Windows serve as escape routes in case of fire, so you should be able to open them in a hurry.

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Mitch Lipka is a consumer columnist and product safety expert. He was the 2011 recipient of the "Kids Best Friend Award" from Kids In Danger for his commitment to reporting on children’s product safety.