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Window Blinds' Inner Cords Pose Strangulation Risk

November 23, 2000|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pull cords on window blinds and draperies have been a known strangulation hazard for children. Indeed, a 6-year-old developmentally disabled girl in Costa Mesa recently died after accidentally strangling herself on window blind pull cords; she had been left alone in her room for less than 15 minutes. Now the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has discovered another potential cord risk.

"We found that the inner cord that runs up and down through the slats of the blinds can be pulled into a loop," said commission spokesman Ken Giles. "If a child sticks his fingers into the slats and pulls on the cord, he can pull it into a loop."

Giles said that of 130 strangulations involving window cords reported to the commission since 1991, 16 were due to this inner cord hazard.

For years, the Washington, D.C.-based group has been warning about the dangers of window treatment pull cords and in 1995 worked with the Window Covering Safety Council to make mechanical changes that eliminated safety hazards. The council also began offering free kits to alter older blinds and drapes.

Previously, attention focused on the looped pull cords used to raise and lower window blinds, in which a child could get stuck. They were eventually replaced with separate cords ending in plastic tassels.

Also, looped cords used to open and close drapes and curtains were replaced with a tie-down device that created tension so that the cords were not hanging loose.

This month, window blind manufacturers have changed their mechanisms to eliminate the newly found inner cord hazard. (Consumers with older blinds can order repair kits containing small plastic attachments that will prevent the cords from being pulled loose.)

"There are babies in cribs who can pull themselves up right next to the blinds and get the cords around their necks," said Giles. "And there are toddlers who are able to climb on the sofa, lose their balance and fall into the loops."

Giles added that even after cords are fixed or replaced, cribs and beds should be moved away from windows. He also urges consumers with children to consider buying cordless blinds.

Cord lengths can also vary when the shades are raised and lowered, warns Karin O'Callaghan, vice president of merchandising for wall treatment company Smith & Noble. She recommends winding a low-hanging cord around a wall-mounted cleat out of a child's reach.

"Even if something has a safety tassel," she said, "it's best to make sure all the cords are out of reach. There's no guarantee that a child won't tie a knot in the cord."

Don't just make these safety checks in your own home--any house that the child visits regularly should be made safe as well.

"It's very easy to overlook safety hazards in the home," said O'Callaghan. "Although most people are aware that there is a danger with window treatments, it can't be said often enough."

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For free window treatment repair kits, call the Window Covering Safety Council at (800) 506-4636. Visit the U.S. Product Safety Commission online at http://www.cpsc.gov.

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