Oregon Health Sciences University Study Documents 183 Fatal Window Cord Strangulations

June 04, 1997

Window covering cords, found on Venetian blinds, represent a substantial strangulation hazard to young children according to a study conducted at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) in conjunction with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The study published in the 4 June 1997 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that, on average, one child in the United States asphyxiated in a window covering cord every 27 days between 1981 and 1995. "However, current reports of window cord deaths may underestimate the true prevalence of fatal strangulations by 49%," says N. Clay Mann, Ph.D., study co-author and assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at OHSU.

The study indicates that two injury scenarios are common: 1) infants in cribs near windows may become entangled in drapery pull cords while sleeping or playing; and 2) toddlers may be suspended from pull cords after jumping or falling from furniture placed near a window. Accident investigations highlight the silent nature of this mechanism of injury. In several instances, older siblings or sleeping adults were allegedly in the same room with the victim at the time of the fatal injury.

Mann further explains that a replacement window covering tassel is available that "splits apart" under 3 pounds of pressure thus preventing the fatal strangulation of an infant or toddler caught in the loop of the window blind cord.

Most strangulations occurred in horizontal Venetian or mini blinds (86 percent). Additional deaths have occurred in Venetian-type vertical blinds, roll-up or pleated blinds and cloth drapes. The structural stability of window coverings was demonstrated by the complete suspension of several infants. Other victims were partially suspended in the window cord loop suggesting that the additional weight of the child in the cord loop activated the drapery mechanism lowering the toddler to the ground. However, sufficient tension persisted in the loop to asphyxiate the child.

Results from this study demonstrate a higher pediatric mortality rate associated with window covering cords than has been documented for other hazardous household fixtures or furniture requiring design modifications or recall including faulty bunk beds, recliner chairs, accordion-style baby gates, toy chests, or electric garage doors.

"Published case reports identified window cords as a source of pediatric strangulation as early as 1945, says Mann. "Since that time, several researchers have recognized window cords as a principal contributor to infant and toddler strangulations. However this paper is the first published study to describe the prevalence and impact of this fatal home injury."

"Measures can be taken to reduce mortality due to window pull cords," says Mann. "The Window Covering Safety Council has developed a campaign providing free tassels and instructions to remove the "loop" from two-corded horizontal blinds."

Free tie-down devices are also available for continuous looped cords found on vertical blinds and on some pleated or honey-comb horizontal blinds. Parents may call 800 506-4636 to receive free modification tassels with instructions, tie-down devices, brochures and posters highlighting home safety practices to protect children from window covering cords.

"Parents with infants should move cribs or beds away from windows with drapery," says Mann. In addition, any household furniture providing height near a window should be moved once a toddler is able to stand while holding on to furniture. Always keep window cords out of reach of children.

The National Injury Information Clearinghouse of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission provided data for the study.

Oregon Health & Science University

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