UPDATE: According to a statement from the Window Covering Manufacturers Association, the majority of blinds made after December 15, 2018 must comply with a new standard that requires them to be cordless or have short cords that are inaccessible to children. This new standard affects about 80 percent of window coverings sold in the United States and Canada, affectively banning the manufacturing of dangerous corded blinds.
When it’s time to baby-proof your home, chances are, you think immediately of electrical sockets, bumpers on sharp-edged coffee tables, and gates at stairs. Unfortunately, window blinds and the dangling cords that adjust their height tend to be far down the list—if on it at all—and the results are often heartbreaking.
According to a new report from the journal Pediatrics, more than 16,000 children in the US were treated in emergency departments for injuries caused by window blinds between 1990 and 2015, an average of almost two children every day. Most of the kids’ injuries were not severe (93%), but during that time, 271 children died.
Part of the problem is that many “parents are not aware the strangulation dangers of window blind cords (even the inner cords, that can be hard to see) as well as how curious children can end up in trouble within a matter of minutes,” says Gary Smith, one of the study’s coauthors and director for the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
“Some parents may simply think that the risk is small and it will not happen to their child," says Smith. "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.’ Even the best parent in the world cannot watch their child every second of every day. A curious child can quickly get entangled in a window blind cord.”
And although blind cords should be on your baby-proofing list, it's actually slightly older kids who are at the biggest risk. “The dangers of blind cords peak between one to four years of age as toddlers gain mobility and become curious about their surroundings," says Smith. They are able to reach blind cords, but they don't understand the danger of strangulation and are unable to free themselves once entangled. Smith notes that most serious injuries in the study occurred while a child was under a parent’s care and had been left alone for less than 10 minutes while either going to sleep, playing or watching TV.
While window covering manufacturers do make a wide variety of safe and affordable cordless blinds, there are still blinds with cords on the market. Smith argues that the solution is simple: the industry needs to stop selling window blinds with accessible cords. The voluntary safety standards that manufacturers may boast adhering to are also inadequate, says Smith. “A window blind that has an accessible cord is unsafe for young children regardless of whether it meets the current safety standard or has a safety seal of approval. Cordless blinds, which have neither operating cords nor accessible inner cords, are the safest option.”
The industry is slowly moving towards making corded blinds obsolete. According to the Window Covering Manufacturers Association (WCMA), by the end of 2018, more than 90 percent of products sold in the US and Canada will be cordless or have inaccessible cords.
If you already have blinds that you can’t or don’t want to replace, you may be able to retrofit them by calling the manufacturers to see if they have kits to address some types of cord hazards. But Smith believes this solution doesn't go far enough. “While the fixes provided by these retrofit kits are a good start, removing corded blinds altogether is the best way to protect your child,” he says. "Some of the fixes can provide a false sense of security if they are not used correctly 100 percent of the time by everyone who lives in or visits your home.”
The best bet is to replace what you have, opting for either cordless blinds or blinds with inaccessible cords—or other types of window coverings altogether, like drapes. (Bonus: Hide and seek + drapes + little kids = cute overload.)
Since it can be a big undertaking to retrofit, replace or remove all of your window blinds with cords at one time, start with the windows in the rooms where your child spends the most time—usually bedrooms and living rooms—and replace the others after those are completed.
In the meantime, look around the room and make some tweaks to decrease risks. For instance, move cribs, beds, couches, and other furniture away from the windows so energetic children cannot use them as springboards to climb on to get to the blinds.
Finally, remember that your home isn't the only place where your child could encounter blinds with cords. “Talk to people at the other places where your child spends time, such as the grandparents’ house, child care or school,” says Smith. “Ask them to also remove window blinds with cords to help keep your child safer.”