March 2, 2021

Consumer Advocates Abandon Talks on Window Blind Safety

Four consumer advocates said that they would no longer participate in discussions by a task force that was intended to draft new guidelines to make window blinds safer for children.

The four, all of the consumer advocates on the task force, stormed out of talks on Thursday, saying their recommendations were being ignored by the group.

The task force — which has some 30 members including regulators and manufacturers of window blinds as well as the consumer advocates — was created last year at the behest of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to suggest improvements to window blind safety, in lieu of regulations. The task force’s recommendations are due in October. The commission then will decide what action to take, if any.

Roughly one child a month dies by strangling on window blind cords, and consumer advocates on the task force pushed for changes that they contended would eliminate the hazards.

Manufacturers focused on more modest improvements, saying removing all dangers was impossible.

The dispute hit a peak Thursday morning at a meeting in Washington, a day after manufacturers handed over the latest draft of proposed changes to window blinds and coverings.

“It did not fulfill the goals of this process, which was to eliminate the hazard,” said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety for the Consumer Federation of America and a member of the task force. “Our recommendations were not being listened to, we were being ignored and resisted.”

She also said that research commissioned by manufacturers to help with writing the new guidelines was not made available to the entire task force.

“We could no longer give legitimacy to this process,” she said. The other task force members who left the meeting were Donald L. Mays, senior director of product safety planning and technical administration at Consumers Union; Carol Pollack-Nelson, a former regulator who is now a safety consultant; and Linda Kaiser, the founder of Parents for Window Blind Safety.

Ralph Vasami, executive director of the Window Covering Manufacturers Association, said he was disappointed that the consumer advocates had “abandoned” the process. He said his members were committed to working with regulators to update the guidelines.

“Already great progress has been made,” he said, in a statement. “Our safety standards are the safest in the world and the proposed updates go even further in minimizing potential risk.”

The proposals include more robust performance and testing requirements, the development of new warning labels and technical changes that would “greatly improve safety,” he said.

The impasse means the issue will have to be settled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an agency that itself is divided by partisan rifts. Its chairwoman, Inez M. Tenenbaum, previously expressed frustration with blind manufacturers.

“It troubles me greatly that the revisions to the standards for roll-up blinds, Roman shades and other window coverings may fall far short of what I expected,” she said on Thursday. “There are two months left before the window covering industry must meet their deadline and I expect to see proposed standards that are strong and eliminate the risk of strangulation to young children.” For a few decades, window blind makers have tried various design changes and offered tips to minimize the risk that children get tangled in blind cords. Still, the number of strangulation deaths has remained fairly constant. The industry points out, however, that sales have increased.

Some consumer advocates say that easy fixes to the problems are available, like cordless blinds and coverings for cords. But cordless blinds cost more to manufacture and can cost at least twice as much at stores.

Ms. Kaiser, whose 1-year-old daughter was strangled by a window blind cord in 2002, said the manufacturers’ current proposals did not address most of the hazards caused by blinds, like long operating cords and tension devices. “It’s disappointing,” she said. “The majority of strangulation issues are still there.”

Mr. Vasami said his members’ commitment to safety was “unwavering.” “We are constantly re-examining our standards and our education programs to ensure our products are on the leading edge of safety standards.”

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