Cura and Dylan Jones should have been celebrating their daughter Emily’s fifth birthday Thursday, but the day was bittersweet for the Yucca Valley couple.
Emily Jones died Sept. 6, 2008, when she became entangled in a cord attached to a set of blinds in the Yucca Valley home the family was renting.
The toddler’s grandmother was watching Emily that day and had laid her down for a nap. When she went to check on her granddaughter, she found Emily with the cord wrapped around her neck.
The 18-month-old’s death was shocking to friends and family, but it wasn’t unique.
Hundreds of young children have died from strangulation caused by ropes or cords attached to window covering systems. In the wake of the deaths, parents are urging consumers and manufacturers to take note and make changes.
“They tell you to keep your kids away from the windows because they could fall out of them. They don’t ever tell you about window blinds,” Jones said tearfully Thursday, March 1.
Nearly 500 incidents leading to child injury or death have been recorded to date by Parents for Window Blind Safety. The advocacy group was founded almost 10 years ago by a parent who lost her child to a corded window blind system.
Linda Kaiser’s 1-year-old daughter, Cheyenne, died in 2002. When Kaiser discovered other parents whose children were hurt or killed from corded window blinds, she founded PFWBS.org and made it her mission to talk to manufacturers, lawmakers and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Thanks in part to Kaiser and her organization, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued one of the largest recalls in history in 2009, when it recalled about 55 million Roman shades and roll-up blinds with strings and inner cord systems.
Other recalls and updates have since been issued, with offers of free repair kits to make cords less accessible to children. Even blinds with strings that aren’t looped can pose a danger, as they can become tangled and form into a noose-like opening.
The commission estimates about 85 million window blinds are sold each year. It has been working with window covering makers since the 1980s and began working with industry leaders in 1995 to make products safer. Newer systems use a wind-up cord system or a cover. To avoid risk altogether, PFWBS and the Consumer Product Safety Commission urge parents to purchase cordless blinds.
Kaiser took part in a safety update with the Window Covering Manufacturers Association recently, but it didn’t end as she had hoped. “I was involved in the safety process. I was on the steering committee,” Kaiser said by phone Friday from her home in Missouri.
“We were all kind of driving them and pressuring them to take the operational cords off the products, because that’s the most deadly part of the product,” she said.
After their recommendations and warnings, she and other safety advocates were dealt a blow by the association when it opted not to remove cords from its products.
“They could eliminate a majority of the hazards if the operational cords were taken off. There was a test for operational cords where if it could be wrapped around a cylinder, it wasn’t safe. At the very end, they dropped everything and kept the cords on the product,” Kaiser said. “We walked out. I can’t put my name on something (like that).”
Kaiser said she’s appalled at blind makers’ all-or-nothing approach to safety. She said she was told that removing the cords might solve some of the safety issues, but it wasn’t feasible on all products, so it wasn’t implemented.
“The standards that are going to come out are not going to reduce deaths because the operational cords are still on the products,” Kaiser said.
She and other parent advocates may not have won the safety standard battle with the manufacturers association, but mothers with stories just like Kaiser’s have prompted legislative changes. For example, Angel’s Law was passed in Maryland in 2010, banning corded window treatments in daycare facilities and foster homes.
Not everyone in the window covering industry is turning a blind eye.
John Edwards, president of Window Products Management, a company that owns window treatment retail companies, said safety is achievable, and he’s pushing for it.
He recommends blinds with child-safe operating mechanisms when doing specifications for homes with nurseries or any building that children are likely to occupy.
Edwards writes window covering specifications for interior designers and architectural firms.
“There are various options available. We can have attractive, functional, energy-efficient window coverings that are safe for children,” Edwards said. “No one wants to see a child hurt, but in our industry you’ll talk to some people who say, ‘What are the parents doing? Where are they during these incidents?’”
Edwards said the problem is most people know to keep kids away from dangerous items, but many don’t know the hidden dangers in everyday items like interior furnishings.
“I’ll bet if you got on the phone and talked to 10 window covering installers, nine of them are not going to know about what the Consumer Product Safety Commission is putting out,” he said.
Edwards may be right. Until an overhaul of the manufacturing practices takes place, advocates like the Jones family remain firm in their message: “No beds or cribs by the windows,” Cura urged. “My best advice would be to just not have corded window blinds.”