Window Covering Safety Issues

One of the many things all of us have to be aware of these days is the possibility of a liability lawsuit and how to avoid the "liability land mines" that can cost huge sums of money, drive up insurance costs, and cause mountains of paper work that disrupt the already stressful lives that we lead. Most of us know that the key to avoiding liability problems is to continue to educate ourselves on those issues.

As many of you know, there are two window covering issues that have come to the forefront recently. On is the issue of lead stabilizing agents used in the production of vinyl mini-blinds. The other issue being the use of continuous loop lift cords and controls on mini-blinds and vertical blinds of all types. Both of these issues are being addressed by the window covering industry voluntarily. I will attempt to bring you "up to speed" on these issues, and educate you on one other issue that may concern you as owners and managers of multifamily housing.

Lead dust in vinyl blinds can pose a health hazard.
In June of 1996, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) released information that after using electron microscope technology in tests conducted at HASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the Army's Aberdeen Test Center, imported vinyl blinds were found to produce dust that contained lead as they deteriorated due to prolonged exposure to sunlight and heat. Although trace amounts of lead can be found anywhere dust collects, these tests also confirmed that the dust came from the blinds and not another source.

The lead contained in vinyl mini-blinds is the result of the use of lead as a stabilizing agent in the production of the vinyl blinds. A child ingesting dust from less than one square inch of blind a day for about 15 to 30 days could result in blood levels at or above that considered dangerous for young children, which could potentially cause behavioral problems; hearing problems; learning disabilities; and growth retardation associated with lead poisoning.

CPSC immediately asked the Window Covering Safety Council, which represents the window covering industry, to change the process by which the blinds were produced. Tin began to be used as an alternative stabilizing agent soon after the request was made, however, there were millions of the old formula vinyl blinds being inventoried by wholesalers throughout the U.S.. While window covering manufacturers responded to the change in the production process quickly, there was still a 6-18 week lag time between when the public became aware of the potential hazard and the time that non-leaded blinds would begin to arrive in the U.S..

Even now you will still have to be careful that the blinds you are buying are designated as new formula, nonleaded formula, or a variation of this statement. Some companies may be trying to "unload" the old formula blinds that they had inventories at the time of the CPSC press release. The CPSC said that the primary concern about the old formula blinds pertains to households occupied by children below the age of six, and recommends the removal of old formula vinyl blinds in homes where children ages six and under reside. Use a reputable vendor who can help you document where you have replaced blinds with new formula minis, or rehab properties where families with small children live.
(Editor's note: If your property was built prior to 1978, you must comply with "Federally Required Lead Hazard Information & Disclosure" regulations.)

Window cord loops can kill.
The most recent safety concern for multifamily owner and managers is really not a new one. In 1985, the CPSC released information that window cord strangulation was the cause of several deaths involving young children.

On June 3, 1997, CPSC reiterated their previous report with additional information found in a study done by Renae Rauchschwable, a Compliance officer at CPSC, and Clay Mann, Ph.D., from the Department of Emergency Medicine, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland. The study concluded that strangulation deaths attributed to window covering cords were under reported by 49 percent. It is estimated that between 1981 and 1995, 359 children lost their lives because of window cord strangulation. This is the equivalent of one child strangulation every two weeks.

In 1994, the Window Covering Safety Council agreed to a voluntary standard that eliminates all loops on mini-blind cords by September 1997. The majority of all the children who dies as a result of window cords strangulation (96%) were ages three years and under.

The following are suggestions on how to rectify this potential problem:

  1. Educate your residents!
  2. Put a separate cord tassel on each lift cord coming out of the cord lock, cut through any existing loops and remove cord equalizers on mini-blinds.
  3. With your blind all the way down, shorten the lift cord to 12 inches below the headrail of your mini-blinds. This will prevent younger children from reaching them. When your mini-blinds are all the way up, the lift cord will extend much farther, so be careful to wrap the lift cord around a tie down, or loop it through the blind out of children's reach.
  4. If vertical blinds are present on your property, I recommend removing the types with chain and cord controls, and replace with new wand control verticals.
  5. All drapery cords should be secured to a spring tension pulley.
  6. Never place children's cribs or beds by windows. Not only will window coverings pose a threat, but children have also been injured by falling out of windows.
If you will follow these recommendations you will reduce the possibilities of a tragic accident on your property. The CPSC report states that parents can get safety tassels and tie downs by calling the Window Covering Safety Council (WCSC) toll free at 1-800-506-4636.
Phoenix Blind & Drapery called this number and got a recorded message that seemed to be directed to individuals only. We spoke to someone at WCSC who said they were not equipped to deal with large quantity requests. You can obtain tassels from your window covering vendor. Pricing will range from $6 to $10 per box of 100.

The safety of your residents could depend on something as simple as providing them with the privacy they deserve. If you are equipping your apartments with window coverings that fit properly, you may be protecting your residents from infringement on their privacy that may prevent occurrences such as theft or sexual assault. In addition to protecting your residents, a properly fitting window covering will reduce the damage caused by residents.

Proper fit protects privacy and your property. Mini-blinds should be inside mounted and have no more than a three-eights inch gap on either side. Our recommendation is that you place one blind in each of your window openings to eliminate the gap that results from installing more than one blind per window.

If you cannot fit your windows with a stock size, then I urge you to consider purchasing your window coverings from that vendor who will cut your blinds to fit properly. Most full service blind companies will do this for a nominal fee, and it will save your maintenance staff lots of time on the installation. Vertical blinds can be mounted both inside and outside the window. If inside mounted, a properly fitting vertical will have no more than a 1/4 inch gap on either side, and a 1/2 inch clearance above the sill or floor. When outside mounting a vertical, make sure that the vertical covers at least three inches beyond either side of the window opening. A properly fitted window covering can prevent many potential problems.

Much of the information contained in this article originated from CPSC reports that you may have already been exposed to. The remainder are insights that I have gained from eight years in the window covering industry. Any amount of money spent preventing the death of even one child will be well worth the investment and I hope that you have a better understanding of the current issues regarding window coverings. I think we can all agree that by protecting your residents, you can indeed protect yourself from the possibility of a lawsuit.

Gary Trautmann, Vice-President of Phoenix Blind & Drapery
Rt 1, Box 608A-7, Cedar Creek, TX 78612-9766.
Feel free to contact Gary with questions or comments at 1-800-471-6836.

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