Window Blinds Safety Questioned After Toddler's Death

Apr 21, 2011, 13:34 by John Steele

The safety of traditional window blinds is under scrutiny this week after a Maryland toddler strangled to death on a window covering cord, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Missouri mother Linda Kaiser found her daughter choked to death on a window shade cord and, to deal with the grief, started a support group for parents. Now, her group is working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to eliminate the loops and hanging cords that cause an average of one death per month in the U.S.

Manufacturers of window blinds and consumer protection agencies alike have dragged their feet on a problem that, Kaiser's group claims, has been a danger for years.

In response to the commission's latest push, the industry, working with a task force of regulators and consumer advocates, says it will come up with a fix by the fall.

One fix that has been suggested is cordless blinds, which are available and in use around the country. But the cost difference is considerable. According to the New York Times, a set of cordless blinds can be twice as much as traditional blinds. So the task force will be looking into more inexpensive alternatives.

But the fixes the window covering industry has put forth are cord covers and catches that will, at best, minimize deaths. Regulators critical of the industry have claimed that these concessions don't go far enough.

"It was my understanding that we were eliminating the hazard," said Carol Pollack-Nelson, a safety consultant and member of the task force. "Now they are talking about reducing the hazard. We don't want reduced strangulation. We want no chance of it."

Window blind manufacturers, who claim there are over one billion blinds in use in the U.S., say it is not their responsibility to ensure that products are 100 percent harmless. After all, the product is not made for children and it is not defective.

"The objective is to minimize the hazard as much as possible," said Ralph J. Vasami, executive director of the Window Covering Manufacturers Association. "I don't know if you have it in your power to eliminate every hazard for every product."

This is not the first time the CPSC has had to step in regarding the window-covering industry. In November, 2008, the commission demanded a full recall of IKEA Roman blinds after a 1-year-old girl strangled on a cord hanging over her playpen, the Associated Press reported. In November, 2010, Hanover Direct recalled 495,000 roman shades and some 28,500 blinds at the behest of CPSC, NBC reported.