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Some military homes have risky blind cords

Jun. 24, 2013 - 08:14AM   |  
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Nearly 300 children have strangled or been seriously injured by window-blind cords since 1996, and at least 10 have been in military housing where residents often are prohibited from making changes that might have prevented the deaths, according to a safety advocacy group.

The deaths have spurred parents to act, but they’re tangling with the bureaucratic weight of the Pentagon and limited resources.

“We’re getting the process rolling and trying to bring more awareness to the military housing,” said Phil Coppedge, a Navy chief petty officer. “But there’s only so much I can do along with the (military) work I do.”

His son Brandyn strangled on a window-blind cord in 2009, while Coppedge was at sea.

Linda Kaiser has been tracking blind deaths since her 1-year-old-daughter, Cheyenne, was strangled by a cord in 2002. Kaiser is head of Parents for Window Blind Safety.

“I don’t think it’s fair that soldiers are in Afghanistan protecting us while their child is at home dying from an unsafe product that they have no say in,” she said. She counts 10 incidents (six deaths and four injuries) since 1996 in military housing and in property managed for service members. She has the government’s attention.

Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum and Defense Department Undersecretary John Conger are urging the companies that provide military housing to replace old window blinds with safer models. The officials sent a letter to the companies, called Defense Department “housing partners,” in April asking for the changes but have gotten no replies yet.

Efforts to improve blinds in military housing coincide with enactment of a new voluntary standard for all window blinds on June 1. But safety advocates, the industry and regulators are at odds about whether it will make enough of a difference.

Ralph Vasami, executive director of the Window Coverings Manufacturers Association, said deaths have decreased since companies started making blinds safer. Before the first federal standard in 1996, he said, there was an average 16 fatalities per year. Although reports tend to lag, preliminary data show that in 2011, there were seven fatalities, and in 2012, there were five fatalities, Vasami said. “The trend is in the right direction,” he said in an e-mail. “Our focus needs to be on preventing incidents where they occur.”

He said data show older products that didn’t meet the standard at the time of an incident or misuse accounted for about 80 percent of the incidents. Advocates say their analysis shows 40 percent of incidents wouldn’t be prevented by the new standard.

Activists say the industry rule doesn’t go far enough and petitioned to make dangling cords illegal. The voluntary standard calls for changes to testing and labeling and the use of cord anchors. But Kaiser said that gives “consumers a false sense of security of how safe these products are. Parents are opening boxes they bought from stores and installing products that were just as unsafe as they were in 1995,” she said. “No changes were made to operational cords, which is the largest hazard.”

Retrofit kits for new and older blinds are for sale starting this month by Fashion Wand.

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