June 19, 2024

Concern Grows Over Window Blind Safety

But before they left, she decided to put her 2-year-old foster son, Angel, down for a nap. A short time later, her daughter came out of the bedroom and announced that Angel was “sleeping in the window with something around his neck.”

Ms. Leeson, who lives in Montgomery Village, Md., found him lifeless and hanging an inch off the floor, with a window-blind cord wrapped around his neck. “I was screaming his name and shaking him, and the realization hit me, ‘Oh my God. This can’t be happening.’ ”

For the last 25 years or so, manufacturers of window blinds have installed safety features and offered tips to parents to try to minimize the dangers from their products. Even so, children like Angel continue to strangle on the cords with grim regularity, an average of one a month.

Now, prodded by a Missouri mother whose daughter was strangled in a window blind, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has asked manufacturers to devise a way to eliminate the risks from window cords or perhaps face mandatory regulations. Critics of the industry complain that manufacturers have dragged their feet on addressing safety hazards for decades, making minor tweaks or putting the onus on parents to shorten cords or buy tie-down devices. Until recently, regulators have done little to crack down, they say.

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.

But the negotiations have gotten off to a rocky start. Like some other regulatory battles that involve consumer safety, this one comes down to a sobering question: how much should manufacturers, and ultimately consumers, be required to pay to prevent the maiming or death of a child?

Manufacturers of window blinds have offered several fixes that they say would reduce the hazards, but consumer advocates on the task force say they are inadequate and have threatened to quit.

“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.”

Regulators at the Consumer Product Safety Commission also rejected the industry’s proposals, and they urged manufacturers to try again. Inez Tenenbaum, the commission’s chairwoman, emphasized that the commission staff plans to continue negotiating with manufacturers to find a solution.

“We are going to stay at the table,” Ms. Tenenbaum said, adding, “I hope everyone will stay at the table.”

What makes the debate over window blinds so vexing is that a solution has been available for several decades: cordless blinds. But cordless blinds are more difficult to manufacture than corded blinds, and can cost considerably more in stores, by some estimates, twice as much.

In an interview, Ms. Tenenbaum said cordless blinds were part of the solution. But the additional cost, she said, had prompted her to push manufacturers to find cheaper alternatives, too, like retractable cords or cords that are covered and therefore inaccessible to children.

Ralph J. Vasami, executive director of the Window Covering Manufacturers Association, said it was unrealistic to expect the industry to eliminate every possible hazard. Window blinds are not children’s products, he said, nor are they defective. His trade group urges parents of young children to install cordless shades.

“The objective is to minimize the hazard as much as possible,” said Mr. Vasami. “I don’t know if you have it in your power to eliminate every hazard for every product.”

Mr. Vasami argued that the industry’s efforts have had a positive effect, citing the fairly stable rate of strangulation deaths even as the industry has grown. He predicted that the number of deaths would inevitably decline as older products were replaced by those with more safety features. “Just looking at it from a statistical standpoint, there will be a lessening over time,” he said.

There are more than one billion blinds in the United States. Americans buy new shades, on average, every seven years, Mr. Vasami said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=36ada6aa2e82dff750fa66a56b6c0b54

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