It can only take a moment for a child to become entangled in a loose blind cord, and the results can be fatal. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), at least 33 children have died as a result of strangulation by loose blind cords in the UK since 2001.
As Christine Heemskerk, Joint Lead Officer for Product Safety at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) points out, “any death or injury is one too many.”
In response, the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the risks posed by blind cords and to spread the word about simple, practical and inexpensive ways of making them safer.
The campaign follows the introduction of a new safety standard in 2014 which stipulates that any new blinds with looped cords must have child safety devices installed at the point of manufacture or sold with the blind. The standard also specifies a maximum cord or chain length and makes it a requirement that all blinds carry safety warnings.
However, there are concerns that many blinds fitted before 2014 may be unsafe. These blinds are potentially installed in millions of homes and are unlikely to be ‘safe by design’ or equipped with child safety devices.
These devices are designed to either break under pressure, to apply tension to the cord or chain, making it impossible for it to become entangled, or to keep the cords themselves well out of the reach of children.
According to Robert Chantry-Price, CTSI Joint Lead Officer for Product Safety, “blinds fitted before 2014 are particularly problematic because a revised safety standard came into force that year requiring new blinds to be sold with cord or chain tensioners to prevent strangulation.”
As Mr Chantry-Price also points out, however, “many accidents could be prevented at minimal cost to the homeowner.”
Easily avoidable deaths
The death of 16-month-old Bronwyn Taylor in 2016 highlighted the importance of this issue. The child suffocated in just a few seconds after becoming entangled in a loose blind cord at her grandparents’ home in Stoke-on-Trent. The family were devastated by a sudden and needless loss that could be easily preventable.
As CTSI Chief Executive Leon Livermore observes, “despite safety improvements, fatal accidents linked to children becoming entangled in window blind cords and chains continue.
“Anyone with looped blind cords in their home or workplace needs to understand that they are dangerous to young children. Consumers and employers alike must take steps to make sure that their blinds are safe. We can’t risk any more accidents.”
As part of the OPSS campaign, parents, carers and others involved in the safeguarding of children are being challenged to answer a simple question: are your blinds safe? They are also being encouraged to:
· secure cords and chains out of reach with a suitable safety device such as a tidy, tensioner or cleat fixed to an adjacent surface;
· move furniture and children’s beds, cots, highchairs and playpens away from windows.
The campaign also advises that:
· cleats or hooks should be positioned out of children’s reach on an adjacent surface at least 1.5 metres from the floor;
· tidies and tensioners should be firmly fixed to an adjoining surface that holds the cord or chain permanently tight. Cords should be fastened up in a figure of eight after every use of the blind, making sure that the spare cord is secured on the cleat.
The RoSPA discourages people from cutting blind cords to put them out of children’s reach since doing so can make them more dangerous; it can result in one cord becoming longer than another, increasing the risk of tangles and the formation of a new loop.
Mark Gardiner, another CTSI Joint Lead Officer for Product Safety, says: “Elimination of the hazards presented by loose blind cords is an essential part making any home child-friendly. The consequences of not reducing these hazards can be catastrophic.”
As Ms Heemskerk puts it, “These steps are important because they will save lives.”
Further information on the OPSS’s ‘Are your blinds safe?’ campaign, including a downloadable poster and information leaflet, can be found here.