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.
A preventable problem
Colton is one of too many children who have been victim to window covering cord strangulation—a preventable accident that many parents don't even realize is a safety concern. But the US Consumer Product Safety Commission lists window covering cords as one of the top five hidden hazards in the home. "I didn't know about children dying in window cord blinds prior to this and I had already raised four other children, so we had all of the safety precautions already in place—or so I thought," Shero says.
A new 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 US 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.
Since 2010, the CPSC has recommended the use of cordless window coverings, as children are at risk from pull cords, looped cords and chains, inner cords, and lifting loops for roll-up blinds. "It's not something that you're going to look at as a danger," says Leslie Wentz of Plain City, Utah, who lost her daughter Abbigale to window blind cord strangulation in September 2006. But these recommendations are not enough, especially because they rely on consumers to take action. "These child deaths are unacceptable because we have known about this problem since the 1940s," Dr. Smith says. "What we need now is for manufacturers to simply eliminate accessible cords in all of their products, including custom blinds and shades."
The need for change
Industry change is starting to happen. In 2017, the Window Covering Manufacturers Association (WCMA) proposed adopting new industry standards. "The WCMA along with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and fellow safety advocates are doing their best to require that all stock products, both online and in stores, are either cordless or have inaccessible cords," says Katie Christopher, the in-house designer and a blind-safety expert at Blindsgalore. "These new standards are currently awaiting approval from the American National Standards Institute."
But what about blinds and shades that are already in homes? "Any unsafe window treatments in your home should be replaced with an updated product," Christopher says. In the meantime, she advises to cut any looped pull cords to create individual cords, and to install inner cord stops to prevent them from being pulled out. However, 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.
Shorter cords are also not the answer. 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.
What to do now
Bottom line: Get those corded blinds and shades replaced ASAP. When shopping for window coverings, look for safety certified products by the WCMA. "The 'Best for Kids' label can be currently found on all products that have been certified safe in homes with small children," Christopher says.
In addition, the nonprofit Parents for Window Blind Safety developed another safety testing program. Products that pass their certification are labeled "Lab Tested, Mom Approved," so you can look for their seal of approval as well. "Designing the hazard out of these products and changing the consumers' mindset about window covering safety is the only way these deaths will end," says founder Linda Kaiser, whose daughter Cheyenne Rose died from entanglement. "Since her death, over 160 children have died and nearly 150 more have been severely injured. These are preventable accidents as long as parents have the correct information." To this end, Parents for Window Blind Safety released a PSA to alert parents to the risks.
You might think you can keep a close enough eye on your kids to prevent entanglements, but no parents can watch their kids 24/7. "Accidents happen when parents are cooking dinner, folding laundry, aiding other children or while parents think children are asleep." Linda Kaiser says.
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.
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