UPDATE – October 20, 2011:
A few months ago, this blog highlighted the issue of dangerous window treatments. In the original article, I discussed how difficult it was for parents to know whether the window treatments in their home were safe and the relatively small cost it would take for manufacturers to make kids safer. So the unfortunate reality is that despite the ongoing safety concerns and injuries and even deaths due to window blind cords, manufacturers persist in making and selling dangerous blinds and shades that have cords that are accessible to children. This week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced another recall of so-called Roman shades and roll-up blinds. These products have cords that allow a child to become strangled if they get their neck caught between the cord and the fabric or if the child accidentally wraps the cord around their neck. While the recall says that injuries have not yet been reported based on this product, these products are of the same type as many where injuries and deaths have been previously reported. It leaves me to wonder at what point the government or some external force will provide enough pressure on the manufacturers to stop creating and marketing dangerous blinds to the public? As my original post explained the cost savings in manufacturing blinds this way is not extreme, but the costs are huge to families when children are hurt. Furthermore, these products are being sold, at least in this case, at discount stores to families who are likely buying what blinds they can afford without any knowledge of the potential danger.
For several years, there have been periodic news reports about major recalls involving window blinds. Window blind manufacturers have also provided a number of different types of safety elements on their blinds. These have included breakaway plastic pieces on the bottoms of the cords and other sorts of “safer” ways to deal with the cords involved in the use of the blinds. How many of you believed that these recalls and changes meant that new blinds or blinds that had not been subject to any recalls were safe?
As a parent, I thought that I was fairly up-to-date about this issue. I had replaced all of the Roman style blinds in one room in my home with cordless blinds before my daughter was born. I had purchased another type of cordless blind system for the playroom. In the one remaining area with older style blinds, I had carefully checked to make sure that the cords were not tied into a loop and that they were cleated-up high so that no additional cord was accessible at child-height. Then, I basically went on living my life without thinking too much more about it.
Well, a recent New York Times article changed that for me. The article details the injuries and deaths of several children. These children were all severely injured or killed by window blind cords. The disturbing part to me, however, was that many of the parents had taken what I would have considered to be major precautions. They had baby-proofed their homes. They had tied-up the extra cords. Yet still, the boys and girls mentioned were hurt or killed by either the interior cords of the blinds and/or by climbing up and getting tangled in the supposedly secured/safe blind cords.
What a disturbing wake-up call. I certainly walked around my house last night with a different idea of child safety. But, as I mentioned, I know that a cordless type of blind exists. So, why is this not the safety standard?
The New York Times article explains:
Now, prodded by a Missouri mother whose daughter was strangled in a window blind, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has asked manufacturers to devise a way to eliminate the risks from window cords or perhaps face mandatory regulations. Critics of the industry complain that 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. Until recently, regulators have done little to crack down, they say.
In response to the commission’s latest push, the industry, working with a task force of regulators and consumer advocates, says it will come up with a fix by the fall.
But the negotiations have gotten off to a rocky start. Like some other regulatory battles that involve consumer safety, this one comes down to a sobering question: how much should manufacturers, and ultimately consumers, be required to pay to prevent the maiming or death of a child?
When I read this, I imagined that it came down to this question because the cost of making all window blinds cordless was prohibitive. The article even states that “… cordless blinds are more difficult to manufacture than corded blinds and can cost considerably more in stores, by some estimates, twice as much.” However, when you examine further, it seems that the cost of cordless blinds might not really be much more and certainly not prohibitively expensive.
The article goes on to say that James G. Onder, a St. Louis lawyer who represents parents whose children have been injured or killed by blinds, “…said manufacturers have repeatedly testified in depositions that the additional cost of making a cordless blind is $1 to $2.” If this is accurate and cordless blinds can be made for $1-2 more per blind, then why are children dying?
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a press release in March 2011 that said that:
About half of the deaths of children who strangle in window cords have not been reported, according to an article in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association and co-authored by a staff member of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
The study found that 49 percent of the total number of window cord strangulations in the United States were not being reported to the CPSC. The study estimates that total number from 1981 to 1995 was 359. These figures mean that nearly one child is strangling in window cords every two weeks. Almost all of these deaths (93 percent) are children three years old and under.
What does it say if window blind manufacturers are selling cordless blinds for twice as much in stores, when they only cost an additional $1 or $2 additional dollars to make? What does that say about the cost of safety? What message does that send to the parents of the child who dies approximately every 2 weeks from window cord strangulation?
If the window blind manufacturers are not going to make safer blinds of their own, should they be regulated? What about the continued marketing of a product that proclaims to have safety features but is not as safe as it can be for children? Is it worth the risk?