Families advised to remove chairs from balconies to prevent fatal falls

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An artist illustration : Balcony safety measures

Following several accidents in which young children have died after falling from apartment balconies or windows, families are being advised to store chairs inside and install hard-to-reach auxiliary locks on windows and doors to prevent such tragedies.

This month, three young boys fell to their deaths in Chiba, Osaka and Aomori prefectures.

A 4-year-old boy who lived on the 10th floor of an apartment building in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, was found unconscious on the grounds of his housing complex on Sunday night. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. The prefectural police believe the boy carried a chair from inside the apartment onto the balcony and climbed onto it before falling over the 1.24-meter-high balcony railing.

On Nov. 2, a 2-year-old boy who lived on the 25th floor of a condominium tower in Chiba was found unresponsive on the roof of the apartment building’s entrance. Police believe he fell to his death from the balcony of his apartment. Another 2-year-old boy is believed to have fallen to his death from a window of his fourth-floor apartment in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, on Nov. 5.

Such accidents occur every year across Japan. In Tokyo alone, 47 children aged 5 or younger fell from windows and 15 fell from balconies in the past five years, according to the Tokyo Fire Department.

Among those 62 falls in Tokyo, 25 occurred from April to June and 20 from September to November. The number of accidents is higher in spring and autumn when air conditioners are used less frequently, with windows and doors more likely to be open. When people curtailed outings amid the coronavirus pandemic, some families put chairs on their balconies to create a fun camping atmosphere.

However, as there have been cases of children standing on chairs and other items before falling from balconies, a Consumer Affairs Agency official said families should “put chairs and other items inside after use.”

The agency recommends measures such as installing auxiliary locks at points that are out of reach of children and ensuring infants do not play on balconies unsupervised. It also recommends ensuring air conditioner condenser units are installed at least 60 centimeters from balcony railings.

In January, the government started offering a subsidy to cover part of the cost of installing safety railings on apartment balconies to prevent falls.

Capped at ¥1 million per unit, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry subsidy covers one-tenth of the installation cost for new apartment buildings and one-third for renovated units.

Families with children in elementary school or younger are eligible to receive the subsidies.

“It is impossible to keep an eye on children 24 hours a day. The most important thing is to prevent children from opening windows, such as by installing auxiliary locks,” said Nihon University Prof. Takeshi Yatogo. “Another effective measure would be balcony railings that are difficult for children to climb over them.”