About half of the deaths of children who strangle in window cords have not been reported, according to an article in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association and co-authored by a staff member of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
The study found that 49 percent of the total number of window cord strangulations in the United States were not being reported to the CPSC. The study estimates that total number from 1981 to 1995 was 359. These figures mean that nearly one child is strangling in window cords every two weeks. Almost all of these deaths (93 percent) are children three years old and under.
"Having this study published in a journal as highly regarded as JAMA will help bring attention to a hidden hazard that we have been trying to help eliminate since I came to the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1994," said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. "Because of this study and the attention it generates, hundreds of young lives could be saved."
The study was co-authored by Renae Rauchschwalbe, a Compliance Officer at CPSC and Clay Mann, Ph.D. from the Department of Emergency Medicine, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland. It is the first study to so thoroughly investigate how these deaths occur.
The study shows that strangulation deaths from window cords happen most often when children are in places their parents think are safe: in a crib or in a child's bedroom. The study also points out that the deaths are silent -- the children can't call out for help. In 85 percent of the documented cases, parents were at home at the time of the incident.
According to the study, there are two common ways children strangle in these cords. Infants in cribs near windows get tangled in the looped cords while sleeping or playing; and toddlers, trying to look out a window, climb on furniture, lose their footing, and get caught in the window cords.
The mortality rate from window cords makes them among the greatest strangulation threats to children three years old and younger. Other products that present a strangulation hazard to children in the home and have been redesigned include strings on pacifiers, recliner chairs, accordion-style baby gates and electric garage doors. Eight-six percent of the window coverings involved in the incidents are venetian blinds or mini-blinds. Another nine percent are venetian-type vertical blinds.
To address the problem of window cord strangulations, CPSC brought together industry representatives in 1994. As a result of that meeting, the Window Covering Safety Council agreed to eliminate the loops in future production of window cords and to provide free safety tassels for consumers. Production of safer cords began in 1995. In addition, and at CPSC's urging, the industry recently agreed to a voluntary standard that eliminates all loops on miniblind cords and requires the use of a tensioning device on the continuous loop cords that are used primarily in vertical blinds. The industry expects all production to meet the new standard by September, 1997.
CPSC has also been working to educate parents on the dangers of blind cords through safety alerts, a series of national "Baby Safety Showers" and through mailings and posters sent to pediatricians.
"This is a hidden hazard that all parents should eliminate immediately. What parents need to know is that they can do something to prevent these tragedies," Brown said. "They can cut the loops of window cords, put on safety tassels, and move their furniture away from blind cords. These simple precautions can prevent a parent's worst nightmare."
Parents can get safety tassels and tie downs by calling the Window Covering Safety Council toll free at 1-800-506-4636. For safety information on window cords, call the CPSC Hotline at 1-800-638-2772.
Safety alerts regarding this issue are in Are Your Window Coverings Safe? -- English (pdf) or Spanish (pdf).