By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
It’s hard to believe that something as seemingly benign as a window blind shade could kill a child, but as a recent New York Times story illustrated, we haven’t yet solved the fatal hazard window blinds present to children. Andrew Martin’s Times story is a cautionary tale about what happens when regulators wait and wait for industry to get off the dime and design a safer product. It doesn’t happen without regulatory pressure toward a mandatory standard.
As Martin’s story illustrates, regulators have been aware of the hazards of window cord blinds since at least the early 1980s, when a federal study to determine the causes of child strangulation tied 41 deaths to drapery and blind cords. Everything from warnings to discontinuing certain styles like horizontal blinds with pull cords ending in a loop, to other fixes like a breakaway device, have been tried. In fact, one manufacturer, Comfortex, produced an ad that highlighted its own solution to the cord problem. Comfortex advertised: “In 1996, only one company offered a real solution to the problem of injuries due to cords. While the industry searched for ways to make cords safer, Comfortex found a way to make shades without cords.”
Over a period of many years, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been talking about cracking down on the industry and insisting on a cord-free design. Corded window blinds continue to present dangers to kids. It seems that no matter how well the cords on these blinds are hidden, when a child’s crib or bed is near a window with such a blind, the danger that the child will reach into the window blind and become entangled in the cord is always present.
For years, CPSC has asked manufacturers to devise a way to eliminate the risks from window cords or face the possibility of mandatory regulations. But manufacturers have dragged their feet on addressing safety hazards for decades, making minor tweaks or putting the onus on parents to shorten cords or buy tie-down devices.
CPSC has a task force to look at the issue. As an NCL friend and safety expert Carol Pollack-Nelson told the Times, “It was my understanding that we were eliminating the hazard. Now they are talking about reducing the hazard. We don’t want reduced strangulation. We want no chance of it.” We agree with Carol.
As the Times story also noted, a solution has been available for several decades: cordless blinds. The industry has testified that the additional cost of making a cordless blind is $1 to $2. And industry says cordless blinds are more difficult to manufacture than corded blinds.
Are these extra cost and other concerns worth the cost of a child’s life? Talk to parents who’ve lost a child – or seen their child suffer brain damage from being entangled in a window blind cord – and the answer will be, unequivocally yes. Would any of us disagree if our own children’s lives were in question?
The CPSC should stop pussyfooting around. We have a product that with a pattern of injury, there’s a technology to make it safe, and doing so is not prohibitively expensive. After years of handwringing, the CPSC should move forward at long last and put a mandatory standard in place for window blinds. No child should have to die because regulators and industry can’t make a simple decision to adopt a safer design for window shades.