On October 17, 2013, Erin Shero of Hixson, Tennessee, was at home with her 23-month-old son, Colton, and stepped out of the family room to fix him a snack. When she returned, she thought her son had fallen asleep beneath the window. "Upon getting closer to him, I touched him and his little head rolled and I was able to see the window blind cord underneath his neck," she recalls. She untangled Colton from the cord, called 911, and began performing CPR. Paramedics arrived and brought him to the hospital, where her toddler was pronounced dead.
Unfortunately, instances like this aren’t uncommon, which is why window covering manufacturers are banning the sales of corded blinds starting on December 15, 2018. This new initiative hopes to eliminate deaths and injuries caused by blind cord strangulation.
Colton is one of too many children who have fallen victim to window covering cord strangulation—a preventable accident that many parents don't even realize is a safety concern. But the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) lists corded window coverings as one of the top five hidden hazards in American homes, since infants and children can accidentally become entangled in them. The most hazardous parts of blinds are pull cords, looped cords and chains, inner cords, and lifting loops for roll-up blinds.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics highlights the problem these window covering cords continue to be. "We looked at 26 years of data from 1990 through 2015 for this study, and found that almost 17,000 children under six years of age were treated in hospital emergency departments in the U.S. for window blind-related injuries, averaging almost two per day," senior study author Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital tells Parents.com. "While the majority of children were treated and released, there was about one child death each month—most from strangulation when a child became entangled by the neck in a window blind cord." And that's just the children who made it to the ER.
Starting December 15, corded window blinds can longer be sold off the shelf. Nikki Hummel, product manager at Blindsgalore.com, says the regulations affect pre-made stocked products. “Anything that comes directly out of the store won’t have cords,” she explains. Customized blinds don’t need to be cordless, but Hummel says the cord length should "be at maximum 40% the length of the shade” to eliminate dangling pieces. The new regulations also require blinds to have a wand (instead of cords) to adjust shade and tilt.
"A lot of it has to do with the injuries and deaths that have come from cords,” Hummel says about the new policy. “No child should be injured by something like cords.” She explains that kids like to play, and sometimes accidents happen. Instead of leaving things to chance, manufacturers are making changes in hopes of saving lives.
If you have corded blinds in your house, Hummel recommends replacing them with cordless or motorized options. “They're cleaner, easier to use, and eliminate any worry,” she says. “The blinds I recommend around children would be a cellular shade, roller shade, or solar shade – something flat and simple, instead of something with multiple rungs or an open structure.”
Some cordless blinds use a wand (rather than a cord or chain) to open and close or to change the position of the slats on blinds. Others are spring-loaded and go up and down when the bottom rail is pulled. Some Roman shades come with an option to remove the cords and instead use clips to hold the shades open.
With any option, look for a safety certified products by the Window Covering Manufacturers Association (WCMA). "The 'Best for Kids' label can be currently found on all products that have been certified safe in homes with small children," says Katie Christopher, the in-house designer and a blind-safety expert at Blindsgalore.
While waiting to replace your corded blinds with an updated product, you should try making your home a little safer. Christopher advises cutting any looped pull cords to create individual cords, and installing inner cord stops to prevent them from being pulled out. But know that individual cords (even those with safety tassels) can still get tangled together, which is how Shero's son Colton died. And inner-cord stoppers aren't compatible with all window coverings.
Parents also shouldn’t try shortening their window cords and calling it a day. Curious children—especially older kids—can easily climb up and reach them. Tension devices that prevent slack from a looped cord can't always be installed on all windows, and it's not good enough to wrap a pull cord around a cleat. Any cord kids can gain access to (even those hidden inside roman shades) is a threat.
Cord incidents are usually silent, as the child can't call for help when his airway is cut off, and strangulation can happen in minutes. "Young children are quick, curious, and unable to recognize danger," Dr. Smith says. "As a pediatric emergency medicine physician, I often have heard these words when a parent brings their injured child into the emergency department: 'Doctor, I turned my head for a minute, and it happened so quickly, I did not have time to stop it.'" The best way to stop entanglement is to replace the blinds and shades that pose this very avoidable hazard. Period.