Window Blinds Can Pose a Serious Danger to Children

Window Blinds Can Pose a Serious Danger to Children

Take stock of your home during National Window Safety Week April 1-7.

Gary A. Smith, MD, DrPH is professor of pediatrics, emergency medicine, and epidemiology at The Ohio State University, and founder and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Falls from windows are commonplace, too. Many parents underestimate how quickly an injury can happen. As a pediatric emergency medicine physician, I often hear: "doctor, I turned my head for a moment, and it happened so quickly did not have time to stop it.

Most window blind fatalities happen when a child has been left alone for less than 10 minutes – often while going to sleep, playing, or watching TV. Many parents believe the "myth of supervision" and think if they watch their children carefully, they will be safe. However, even the best parents are not able to watch a child every second of every day.

We published a study in Pediatrics in December 2017 that analyzed 26 years of data and found nearly 17,000 children younger than 6 years were treated in hospital emergency departments for window blind-related injuries from 1990 through 2015. That is about two children per day on average.

Danger comes from:

  • Inner cords, such as those found in horizontal blinds and roman shades
  • Operating cords used to raise and lower the blinds
  • Continuous loop cords, such as those found in vertical and roll up shades
  • Loops created when cords become knotted or tangled, or when they are tied to a stationary object in an attempt to keep them out of a child's reach

The dangers of blind cords peak between 1 and 4 years of age. As children gain mobility and explore their surroundings, they are able to reach cords but do not recognize danger and are unable to free themselves once entangled.

Children continue to die from strangulation by window blind cords even though we've known about this problem for more than 70 years. This is unacceptable!

Since the mid-1990s we've had a voluntary safety standard and multiple product recalls, yet we continue to see these deaths. The risk-reduction approach offered by the current voluntary safety standard is not enough, even with the recently announced improvements. We need manufacturers to eliminate accessible cords in all window blinds and shades.

Safe, affordable cordless blinds and shades are widely available. However, the newly revised voluntary safety standard still exempts custom blinds, and these represent about one-fifth of blinds sold. Because the industry is not willing to do what is needed for children's safety voluntarily, a federal standard should be adopted prohibiting the sale of products with accessible cords.

In response to our study, Commissioner Elliot F. Kaye of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission stated, "We only make progress on these safety issues with a strong and sustained effort by the federal government to hold the companies accountable, including advancing a mandatory safety standard. The Commission should listen to our nation's pediatricians and use all available measures to once and for all end these tragedies."

Messaging to the public by health professionals, industry, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission and safety advocates, while important, is not enough. Designing the problem out of existence is the most effective strategy. This engineering approach has been used successfully to prevent a variety of consumer product-related injuries. When baby walkers were designed with a mechanism that brings them to a stop when a wheel goes over a top step, the number of infant injuries from falls down stairs in baby walkers declined dramatically.

Until all window blinds are cordless, parents should follow these recommendations:

  • Replace all corded blinds with cordless blinds, blinds with inaccessible cords, or other types of window coverings, such as shutters or draperies
  • When purchasing window products, look for the labels, "Lab Tested, Mom Approved" or "Certified, Best for Kids"
  • If you are unable to replace all window blinds at once, start with rooms where your child spends the most time – usually bedrooms and living rooms – and replace the others as you can
  • Retrofit kits address some types of cord hazards, but fixes can provide a false sense of security; removing corded blinds altogether is the best way to protect your child
  • Move cribs, beds, couches and other furniture away from windows so children cannot climb on them to get to the window
  • Ask people at the other places where your child spends time, such as a grandparent's house, childcare center, or school, to replace window blinds with cords

We live in a world designed by adults for the convenience of adults, and children's safety is often an afterthought. Let's put child safety first and go cordless. Join us in the effort to raise awareness of risks during Window Safety Week April 1-7.

Dr. Smithreceived the 2016 NSC Green Cross for Safety Advocate Award.

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