Balcony Railings a Hidden Danger to Children

"Grandfathered" Railings Enable Children to Fall to their Deaths

Hazardous balcony railings in homes and hotels are a continuing menace to children, according to a report airing today on the nationally syndicated "Inside Edition" news program.

Over the last 10 years, most cities and states have upgraded their safety standards to require hotel balconies to have less than four inches between each guardrail, making it next to impossible for any child to slip through.

But "Inside Edition" investigators found hotels and homes which were built before the safer standard was enacted are allowed to keep the larger spacing, increasing the chances for an accident.

"It just didn't seem real, it still doesn't seem real to me. I'm not ready to accept it," says Lauren Shpigler in today's broadcast.

Lauren and her husband, David, were on a family vacation at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on the island of Oahu with their family. Two of their boys, Danny, 6, and Sammy, 3, wandered out onto their hotel balcony and shortly thereafter, the Shpigler heard a loud thud.

"He [Danny] turned around and had this horrified look on his face and he said, 'Sammy just fell,'" Lauren said. The Shpiglers rushed down the stairs and found Sammy had died instantly from the impact of the fall.

Danny later told them Sammy slipped through the space between the guardrails.

"At three-and-a-half years old? That's it? I can't say it's a nightmare. This is worse than any nightmare you could ever have," David Shpigler said.

To investigate the problem, John O'Conner, a Florida building inspector, accompanied Inside Edition to Orlando, a tourist mecca for families with small children, where he measured a variety of balcony railings at hotels and motels built over ten years ago. Most of them had spacing that is wider than required in new structures built today.

"This railing is just under 6 inches and it doesn't look very wide, but it's wide enough for a child to get his head through and ultimately fall through and get injured," O'Connor said during one inspection.

To see how easily a child could squeeze through some guardrails, Inside Edition constructed an enclosure with railings that were four, five, six and seven inches apart, and tested it on children ranging in age from two to three years old.

The children had no problem fitting through the six and seven-inch gaps. One two-year-old slipped through the five-inch gap, but none were able to squeeze through the four-inch gap, the current safety standard.

The Shpiglers say they've started a child-safety web site in honor of their son. They hope no parent has to go through the nightmare they've experienced with the loss of their son.

"He fell through the railings? You're not supposed to be able to fall through the railings...He was just a happy little boy that wanted to live life and he doesn't have that chance now," David said.

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