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Window Blinds Are a Safety Hazard

January 31, 2018

Story at-a-glance

  • Window blinds have been used since the ancient Egyptians strung reeds together for privacy and protection from the heat, and have graduated to angled slats of all sizes controlled by cords
  • A recent study finds the number of children injured and killed each year from modern blinds is not trending upward or downward, but two children are injured each day
  • For decades the industry has protected their financial interests by placating consumer groups with voluntary standard changes, none of which have changed the number of children injured each year
  • There are strategies you may use to help prevent injuries from window blinds, and from choking, falls, burns and in your car

By Dr. Mercola

Window blinds come in all shapes, sizes and designs. While you might think they are a relatively modern invention, they actually date back to early Egyptians who strung reeds together for privacy, or the ancient Chinese who used bamboo.1 The Persians introduced blinds to Venice, after which Venetian blinds spread across the world. No matter what language, country, culture or hemisphere, you need something to protect your home from heat and protect your family's privacy.

The first patent for Venetian blinds was registered in 1769 and modified in 1841 so the slats could be angled.2 Mass production of blinds began just after World War II when Hunter Douglas introduced a network of over 1,000 distributors across North America.3 In 1985 cellular shades, also called honeycomb shades, were introduced to reduce energy consumption.4

Blinds have been used in homes for centuries, but it wasn't until the late 1800s that that cords were added to alter the angle of the slats or raise and lower the blinds. It is these cords that have triggered the greatest number of injuries and deaths from the use of blinds in homes and offices. In a recent study, researchers found nearly 17,000 U.S. children less than 6 years old were treated for injuries related to window blinds between 1990 and 2015.5

Two Children Injured Every Day

Dr. Gary Smith, who directs injuries research at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and his team analyzed 26 years of data from two national databases that collected information on emergency room treatments and fatal injuries. The report found that while most of the 17,000 children suffered minor injuries, there were 228 cases where a young child caught their neck in the cord and in two-thirds of those cases the injury was fatal.6

The study also notes that the number of reported injuries from a window blind did not demonstrate an upward or downward trend.7 The dangers of window blinds have been known since 1945 when medical journal articles reported on two accidental hangings of children. Data from the featured study indicates that two children are injured from accidents with window blinds every day. Smith commented:8

"The findings of this study confirm that children continue to die from strangulation on window blind cords. This is unacceptable. We've known about this problem since the 1940s. We have had a voluntary safety standard in [the U.S.] … since the mid-1990s and we've had product recalls, and yet we continue to see these deaths."

Nearly two-thirds of the injuries children suffered in this study were to their head, often cuts, contusions and abrasions.9 Children who were tangled in the cords accounted for 11.9 percent of all the cases, and those were associated with nearly 80 percent of the 726 children who were hospitalized. Window blind cords were also associated with 94 percent of the 271 children who died during the study period.

The number of children injured may not be accurate as not all children require emergency care after a window blind is pulled from the window or the child is tangled in the cord. Data from the study indicates that most of the injuries occur at home in the bedroom or living room, and nearly 90 percent happened when the children were under the care of their parents. But almost none of the entanglements were witnessed.

Researchers Want the Problem To Be Designed Out of Existence

As this is not a new problem, and certainly not the first study demonstrating the issue continues to be a challenge to children's health care, Smith advocates "designing the problem out of existence"10 as the most effective means of reducing or eliminating these types of injuries to children. In 1985 advocacy groups began efforts to remove cords from window blinds.

In an interview on ABC Nightline, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) chairman Elliot Kaye stated "I don't know what the issue is, other than greed."11 During the interview Kaye shared how manufacturers had used lobbyists and public relations campaigns to resist efforts to address the need for cordless blinds since 1985.

The stalemate between the CPSC and manufacturers highlights the lack of legislative teeth the CPSC has in protecting consumers.12 Over the years the industry has offered voluntary fixes that provide the illusion of safety as the number of injuries and deaths has not abated. The CPSC is required by law to defer to industries that are voluntarily making changes to ensure safety to their consumers.

The theory is that manufacturers have strong reasons to ensure their products are safe. However, in reality, some industries have used their resources to put off regulatory action using voluntary standards that are woefully inadequate. Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies from Massachusetts, asks:13

"How many years of professional courtesy should the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission extend to the window coverings industry before abandoning the standard process?"

Industry officials blame the safety problems on consumers and parents who don't keep their children out of harm's way.14 Pamela Gilbert, former executive director of the CPSC and Washington lawyer, talks about the process, saying,15 "The process works when industry really wants to solve the problem. The industry has thought from the beginning that this is a parental supervision thing."

Gilbert characterizes the industry's position, saying, "We are going to have cords. You have cords in blinds just like you have engines in cars. Parents should keep kids out of roads and out of window blinds. It is not our problem." According to James Onder, St. Louis attorney responsible for 50 lawsuits against manufacturers in 23 states where children were injured or killed:16

"They are not going cordless because they want to protect their profit margins. The industry has made a conscious decision that it is cheaper to pay off a lawsuit than it is to save human lives ..."

A voluntary safety standard has been in place since 1996.17 In an effort to reduce attention to a lack of industry action, the Window Covering Manufacturers Association recently proposed revising their voluntary safety standard to require stock products to be sold cordless or with inaccessible cords, although custom blinds with cords could still be ordered.

Top Five Hidden Hazards at Home

In an ABC News investigation conducted at stations across the U.S., it appeared that the message about window blind safety hazards had not reached the general public or store clerks helping new parents purchase window coverings.18

Reporters asking about purchasing window blinds for homes with children got an array of answers that ranged from clerks who understood cords were a hazard to, "I think it'll be too tall to grab the cord. I mean you can always shorten it, when you have the cord, you can just tie it up so only you guys can access it." Window blinds are among the top five hidden hazards the CPSC has identified to toddlers and other children in your home. Others they warn about include:19

Magnets: When small powerful magnets are swallowed they can attract to each other inside the body and twist or block intestines. If you believe your child has swallowed a magnet, get immediate medical attention.

Recalled products: Watch for the latest safety recalls and remove dangerous products from your home. Sign up for recall notices now at www.cpsc.gov.

Windows: Never place your child's crib or playpen near window blinds. In rooms where children spend the most time, use cordless blinds or install safety devices on the cords and install window guards or stops to prevent falls from the window.

Tip over: Kids will climb. Top-heavy furniture, TVs and stoves can tip over and crush young children. Make them all more stable by installing anchors and brackets.

Pools and spa drains: Suction from a pool or spa drain can be powerful enough to trap a child or adult underwater. Inspect pools and spas for missing or broken drain covers.

Keeping Your Toddler Safe

While manufacturers would like to abdicate all of their responsibility to produce and sell a consumer-safe product, the reality is that it takes everyone to raise the next generation of children. Parents need a combination of accurate information and safe products to help protect their children from myriad potential problems, including falls, fire, poisons and choking.

The responsibility doesn't fall exclusively to manufacturers or to parents. While it is impossible to list everything you need to keep your toddler safe, here is a short list of additional strategies that may help:20,21,22

Burns

  • Never drink hot fluids when feeding or nursing your baby
  • Turn your hot water heater to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) to reduce the potential for burns during baths
  • Keep hot pans and plates away from the edge of the table or stove
  • Remove lighters, matches and other fire-starting equipment from reach
  • Store a fire extinguisher in your home, and two if you have a two-story home
  • Move electrical cords out of reach of children as they will pull items over
  • Don't store candles where children can reach them
  • Don't leave children near an open fire, such as candles, wood-burning stove or fireplace

Passive smoke and car exhaust

Protect your child's lungs from small particulate pollution from cigarettes and car and truck emissions that trigger asthma, allergies, brain inflammation and behavioral changes. Make a commitment to not smoke in the same home or car as your child. Change your car air intake to recirculate when in heavy traffic and close your windows to reduce the amount of car emissions sucked into your car.

Choking

  • Remove small objects from reach, such as buttons, pens, candy, marbles, beads, batteries and coins
  • Do not give small children foods that can break off into small, hard pieces
  • Cut foods very small or minced to prevent choking
  • Do not give small children grapes, nuts, popcorn, marshmallows or similar foods
  • Keep your child seated and with you while eating
  • Evaluate toys for your child, as anything smaller than a tennis ball is a potential choking hazard23
  • Small children may strangulate on jewelry, long cords or looped cords
  • Keep medications, toothpaste and cosmetics locked and out of reach
  • Watch what has fallen to the floor as your child will put most items in their mouth

Cars and Traffic

  • Use a properly fitted and approved child restraint suitable for your child's age, size and weight
  • Never store anything on the floor of the back seat, or in the back of a station wagon or hatchback, as they can easily hurt your child in an accident
  • Avoid leaving your child alone in a car, even for just a few minutes
  • Toddlers need to be held when near traffic as they easily dart away into the road
  • Car injuries are common when moving the car in the driveway; it is safest to have the child in the car with you when moving the car
  • Use child locks to prevent your child from accidentally opening windows and doors

Drowning

  • Install safety latches on bathroom doors and toilet bowls
  • Never leave your child unattended in a bathtub or in the bathroom
  • Provide immediate and consistent supervision around a pool, hot tub or bucket of water

Falls

  • A toddler's body is top heavy, causing them to tip over easily
  • Use gates or locked doors to keep your toddler away from stairs
  • Anchor your television, bookshelves and other furniture so they don't topple when your toddler is pulling on them
  • Do not use bunk beds with toddlers
  • Ensure all children wear helmets when they are biking or riding in a child seat on a bike
  • Cover all sharp corners of furniture to prevent injury
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Sources and References

  • 1, 2 Signature Shutters of Houston, July 31, 2014
  • 3 My Blind Repair, December 4, 2014
  • 4 Infographic Journal, June 27, 2012
  • 5 Pediatrics December 2017
  • 6, 8, 9 Reuters, December 11, 2017
  • 7 STATnews, December 11, 2017
  • 10, 17 CNN, December 11, 2017
  • 11, 18 ABC News, November 6, 2015
  • 12, 13, 14, 15 Oregon Live, April 16, 2015
  • 16 Fair Warning, April 16, 2015
  • 19 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Top 5 Hidden Hazards in the Home
  • 20 Women and Children’s Health Network, Toddlers - Keeping Them Safe
  • 21 SafetyED, Top 10 Tips for Keeping Toddlers Safe at Home
  • 22 VeryWell, October 16, 2017
  • 23 KidsSafe, Prevention of Choking, Suffocation and Strangulation in Young Children
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