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From Products Liability Law Daily, March 5, 2014

Consumer advocacy groups demand CPSC act on window blind safety

By Joe Bichl

Consumer safety advocacy groups have called on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to take action to protect children from hazards posed by cords on window coverings following the news that four children died in three weeks from strangling on the cords. Among the groups seeking action from CPSC were Parents for Window Blind Safety, Consumer Federation of America, and Independent Safety Consulting.

According to a Consumer Federation of America news release, four children strangled to death from cords on a window covering over a period of 22 days: a six-year-old girl in Maryland on February 8; a three-year-old girl in Texas on February 15; a four-year-old boy in Georgia on February 17; and a two-year-old boy in Maryland on March 1. Each of these children died after the cord of a window covering strangled them.

“Four children dying in three weeks is tragic, unacceptable and preventable,” said Linda Kaiser, founder and president of Parents for Window Blind Safety.

CPSC’s data indicates that, between 1985 and 2012, 324 children have been killed, and 122 have been injured by window covering cords. Voluntary safety standards for window covering cords have been in existence since 1996, and have been revised five times. The safety groups maintained that these standards have failed to eliminate or even significantly reduce the risk of strangulation and asphyxiation by window covering cords to children, arguing that manufacturers have failed to comply with the voluntary standard and have “exploited weaknesses” in the standards to actually increase the number hazardous cords on window coverings.

Mandatory safety standard. Due to the consistent death rate, the failure of the voluntary standards to address the hazard, and the existence of products and technology in the marketplace that can prevent this hazard, Consumer Federation of America, Parents for Window Blind Safety, Kids In Danger, Consumers Union, Independent Safety Consulting and other organizations filed a rulemaking petition in May 2013 with CPSC that would make cords for window coverings inaccessible to children. According to the petition, window covering cords have long been considered a “hidden strangulation and asphyxiation hazard to children.” Indeed, it stated that CPSC regularly includes these cords as one of the top five hidden hazards in the home. Further, petitioners argued that, since 1985, CPSC has worked with and repeatedly pressed the window covering industry to eliminate these hazards, through public education, corrective actions, and voluntary standards, but that these efforts have not been adequate. According to the petition, a mandatory rule is necessary because attempts to develop a voluntary standard that adequately mitigates the risk of injury associated with window covering cords have failed to eliminate or even significantly reduce the risk of strangulation and asphyxiation by window covering cords to children.

“A strong mandatory standard by the CPSC is necessary to protect children. For almost 20 years, the voluntary standard has failed to address the strangulation posed to children. In light of the history of the voluntary standard, the documented and persistent hazard that cords on window coverings pose to children, and these recent deaths, it is time for CPSC to act,” stated Rachel Weintraub, legislative director and senior counsel at Consumer Federation of America.

Technology available to protect children. According to the safety groups, products and technology already on the market can protect children. Window coverings that eliminate accessible, hazardous cords are available, add minimum costs to the manufacturing of blinds, and can be used on the vast majority of blinds and shades. In addition, designs that render the pull cords of window coverings inaccessible have been available since the 1990s but were never sold in the marketplace because CPSC allowed separated cord tassels to serve as a compliant design.

“A mandatory standard that eliminates hazardous, accessible cords is necessary to protect children from strangulation. Further, a mandatory standard levels the playing field for manufacturers, in terms of costs. Without such a standard, future generations of children will continue to perish and the small, innovative manufacturers who have invested the time and money to develop safe window coverings will go out of business and stop producing these products leaving consumers without safer alternatives,” Carol Pollack-Nelson, Ph.D., of Independent Safety Consulting, said.

Companies: Window Blind Safety; Consumer Federation of America; Independent Safety Consulting; Kids In Danger; Consumers Union

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