If your home has vertical blinds manufactured or installed before 2001, your child is at risk for strangulation in the looped cords that open and close the blinds. Even new blinds, however, can pose a hazard if they're not installed or used properly. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has implemented voluntary standards for vertical blind manufacturers, and knowing what they suggest can help you ensure that your blinds don't pose a risk to your child.
Between 1991 and 2004, 200 children died as a result of being strangled in window blind cords, and 40 percent of these deaths occurred as a result of vertical blind cords, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The biggest risk that vertical blinds pose to children is the cord that's used to open and close them. The cord can get looped and if your child puts her head in the loop, it can pull tightly enough to cut off her air supply and strangle her. The inner cord that keeps the blinds connected to each other can also cause strangulation, and about 20 children have died this way.
If you have older vertical blinds, you can order a retrofitting kit from the manufacturer to reduce the risk of injury. The Window Covering Safety Council also offers retrofitting kits free of charge, Jennifer Bright Reich, author of "The Babyproofing Bible," notes. When you retrofit your blinds, you cut the cord and then fit the ends with a tassel that allows you to open and close them normally. By cutting the cord, you're reducing your child's risk of strangulation. The kits might also help you tie down the cords so they can't get looped or moved, which also reduces the risk of your child becoming entrapped and strangled in the cord.
If it's in your budget, you might consider replacing older vertical blinds with brand new ones. New vertical blinds meet more rigid safety guidelines so they're less likely to pose a strangulation risk to your children. Many of the new versions aren't made with cords, but feature a track system so they'll still open and close normally. You can open and close these newer versions with a plastic wand rather than a pull cord, which also reduces the risk of strangulation. Other cordless window coverings, such as curtains or drapes, can also reduce your child's risk.
If you do have vertical blinds with cords, take additional precautions to keep your child safe. Install cord stops to prevent the cords that attach the blinds together from getting pulled out and looped around your child's neck. Move cribs, beds and other furniture away from windows with blinds and tuck the cords along the top so they're out of your child's reach. Always lock the blinds into position when they're open or closed, as well, the Window Covering Safety Council recommends. Because the retrofitting kits are free, consider installing them immediately, but continue taking these precautions until you do so.