December 14, 2017

Nearly 17,000 children have been injured by window blinds since 1990—despite safety standards

Daily Briefing

    U.S. EDs from 1990 to 2015 treated nearly 17,000 children under the age of six for window blind-related injuries, despite the presence of safety and risk-reduction standards intended to address window blind hazards, according to a study published Monday in Pediatrics.

    Study details

    For the study, researchers retrospectively analyzed data on window blind-related injuries among children under age six treated in U.S. EDs from 1990 to 2015 from the:

    • In-Depth Investigation databases maintained by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC); and
    • National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

    The researchers noted that the study is limited because it only accounts for window blind-related injuries treated at U.S. EDs, and does not take into account such injuries that were treated elsewhere or not reported. As a result, the findings underestimate the number of window-blind related injuries that occurred among U.S. children.

    Key findings

    The researchers found that U.S. EDs treated an estimated 16,827 children under the age of six for window blind-related injuries from 1990 to 2015, which they said translates to an average of 647 injuries annually and an injury rate of 2.7 per 100,000 children.

    The researchers found a majority of children who had window blind-related injuries were treated and released, and most cases involved only minor injuries. However, the researchers found that about one child died each month from window blind-related injuries—most of which involved strangulation from children having their necks entangled by a window blind cord. Specifically, the researchers found 228 cases involving children having their necks caught in window blind cords, and two-thirds of those cases resulted in fatal injuries.  

    According to the study, about 75% of the window blind-related injuries were head injuries, most often involving cuts, contusions, and abrasions. The most common window blind-related injury occurred when a window blind struck a child, which occurred in nearly 50% of the cases. Cuts from window blinds were the second-most reported injury, the researchers found. According to the study, about 12% of the cases involved children becoming entangled in window blind cords.

    The researchers found that a majority of the window blind-related injuries occurred when children were at home with their parents, but adults only witnessed a few of the incidents. Children most often had been put to bed, were playing, or were watching television when they sustained window blind-related injuries, according to the study.

    Comments

    Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said, "The findings of this study confirm that children continue to die from strangulation on window blind cords," which is "unacceptable." Smith said, "We've known about this problem since the 1940s" and "have had a voluntary safety standard in this country since the mid-1990s." He added, "We've had product recalls, and yet we continue to see these deaths."

    Smith said CPSC in 2014 approved a petition to develop mandatory safety standards for window coverings that require all window coverings to be cordless or have cords that are inaccessible to children—unlike the current voluntary safety standards that are intended to reduce the risk of strangulation. "Cordless technologies are available for most blinds and shades and add little cost to manufacturing," Smith said, adding, "What we need now is for manufacturers to simply eliminate accessible cords in their products so that children can't gain access to them."

    Sean Bandzar, an emergency medicine researcher at New York Presbyterian Hospital who was not involved in the study, echoed Smith's calls for more stringent safety standards. Bandzar added that there are measures parents can take to improve supervision, such as aiming baby monitors or cameras toward blinds to keep an eye on their children when they are not in the same room.

    Paul Nathanson, spokesperson for the Window Covering Manufacturers Association (WCMA), said WCMA is "about to approve the most significant change to the [association's] safety standards that there's been since it was created in 1996 by segmenting the market and forcing all stock products to have no accessible cords." Under the new safety standards, any mass-produced window product sold online or in retail stores would have to be cordless or have no accessible cords. Nathanson said, "By this time next year, 90% of the products for sale in the [United States] and Canada will be cordless" (Rapaport, Reuters, 12/11; Haelle, "Shots," NPR, 12/11; Onders et al., Pediatrics, December 2017). 

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