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THE SAFETY ZONE | Spotlight

Untangling Home Dangers

Young children can become tangled in blind and drapery pulls and drawstrings from clothing. Consumer advocates suggest that parents check their homes for potential hazards.

May 01, 2000|WILLOUGHBY MARIANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three-year-old Catherine Mary Cessna loved climbing on her bed and looking out the window. But last March, she tripped with a drapery cord looped around her neck and died of asphyxiation.

It all happened in a few seconds as Catherine's mother was nearby in the home. "This was an instance where parents supervised the child, but no one saw the activity as a threat," said Randy Black, a spokesman for the Santa Ana Fire Department.

Black and others said the case points up what can be an overlooked threat: drapery cords and drawstrings on clothing.

About 200 children have strangled on drapery cords since 1981, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. places the number as high as 350, with 93% of victims being 3 or younger. Officials said the risk can be reduced significantly by simply using a pair of scissors.

"You could call these hidden hazards. Just about every home has the window blind cords, and most little kids have a jacket and sweatshirts," said Ken Giles, a spokesman for the Consumer Product and Safety Commission. "In these cases the fix is so simple. Cut the loop. Pull out the drawstring."

Drapery strangulation most often occurs in a child's bedroom or crib, places where parents believe children are safe, according to the regulatory agency. In 85% of documented cases, parents were at home.

Typically, infants get tangled in looped cords while sleeping or playing. Toddlers climb on furniture to look out windows, trip and get caught in the cords.

Strangulation by clothing cords is much more rare. From January 1995 through January 1999, about 22 children died when their drawstrings were caught in playground equipment or chain-link fences, and in one case, on a bus door, according to federal records. A 14-year-old boy was pulled under the wheels of a bus when its doors closed on the drawstrings of his pants, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A few years ago, drape manufacturers agreed to redesign their products so new blinds no longer had looped cords. Clothing manufacturers ceased making children's clothing with drawstrings, and now secure coats and jackets with Velcro, buttons or snaps.

Although consumer safety advocates applaud manufacturers' efforts, the changes do not eliminate the danger. It takes years for drapery to be replaced, they said, while children's clothing is often passed down through the family, or resold in thrift shops.

Spot checks conducted last year by the commission showed that at 69% of thrift stores nationwide, there was at least one product that violates safety standards, was recalled or banned. Children's drawstring clothing was among the items most frequently found.

In addition, child-care centers, like homes, also are a source of hidden hazards. A 1998 federal government survey of 220 licensed child-care settings across the United States found that two-thirds had at least one safety hazard. Two that figured prominently were window blinds with looped cords and children with drawstring sweatshirts and pants.

As these items are slowly phased out, consumer advocates recommend that parents check their home for hazards and fix them and carefully scrutinize child-care settings for potential safety problems. The Window Covering and Safety Council makes drapery hooks and tassels available for free at retailers so that parents can keep looped cords on older model blinds out of the hands of children and secure the ends of cut cords from fraying. Parents can get safety tassels by calling (800) 506-4636.

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More safety information on window cords and drawstrings can be found at the Consumer Product Safety Commission at (800) 638-2772 or http://www.cpsc.gov.

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Hidden Hazards

Ordinary items like drapery cords and clothing drawstrings can strangle and kill children, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In recent years, drapery and clothing manufacturers have modified their products to eliminate the hazards, but any of the older items are still in use. Consumer advocates recommend parents check their home for such hazards and eliminate the risks.

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