TODAY |

Regulation of window blinds needed after toddler killed in tragic accident, coroner urges

A coroner is calling for mandatory regulation of window blinds, after a toddler was strangled by cords on a set of roman blinds.

Roman blinds. Source: istock.com

Coroner Mary-Anne Borrowdale said the availability of prevention devices and the rate of window blind-related deaths creates a strong case for a need to address the risks.

She labelled past window blind-related deaths a "preventable tragedy" when there are modifications available to prevent harm.

In 2018, a 19-month-old girl was found unresponsive on the floor of her bedroom after she was strangled by roman blinds. 

Emergency services were called, but weren't able to resuscitate her.

Police concluded that the toddler may have become caught in the blinds' cord while trying to look out the window and tripped.

The girl's death was caused by the inner cords of the roman blinds' reverse sides, not the operating cord.

Borrowdale said there have been some awareness efforts made about roman blinds, but those had focused solely on the operational cords and not those in the inner section of the blinds. 

"Those efforts, while laudable, are alone not sufficient to protect young New Zealanders from the risks of corded blinds."

She said the focus overlooks "the hazard caused by long, accessible, but less visible cords."

Now the coroner is recommending that efforts to educate homeowners and parents should go beyond current measures, calling the danger "as much a hazard to young children as standing bodies of water."

She says advising consumers to install cord cleats and to keep furniture away from the blinds isn't sufficient prevention.

Currently in New Zealand, there are no regulations surrounding roman blinds to prevent the risk of strangulation, despite other countries having done so.

Borrowdale is calling on the Minister of Business, Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE) to require regulations be enforced and prevent further unnecessary tragedy.

However, the Ministry says it won't be calling on the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to declare a mandatory safety standard.

MBIE senior advisor of product safety Brendan Noonan defends the lack of regulations in place.

He says suppliers are capable of following "self-assessment processes" and consumers can also reduce risk by moving furniture.

But Borrowdale is shooting down the Ministry's claim that the risk of window blinds "can only be mitigated by information that encourages the occupant to take necessary action".

She says education is not the only solution when there are a variety of prevention devices on offer.

"It is possible to both mitigate that existing risk, and to regulate future sales and installations so that the risk is not magnified."

Australia has had a mandatory product safety standard for roman blinds in place since 2010, requiring printed warnings and the supply of safety devices with corded internal window coverings.

Corded blinds-related deaths across the Tasman have dropped from 15 deaths in 11 years to six deaths in the following nine years.

Since 2009, at least six children in New Zealand have died as a result of blind cord asphyxiation, all but one of which were from roman blinds.  

"The statistics, each case representing a deeply tragic loss of life, are highly concerning given the low public awareness of this hazard," said Borrowdale.

The girl's father says the blinds weren't sold with any safety warnings, custom-made for the high and narrow window in the toddler's room.

A special report by New Zealand's Child and Youth Mortality Review identified that "death from traumatic asphyxia caused by suffocation" was one of the leading causes of unintentional injury deaths in children.

The 2013 report highlights that as children become more mobile between the ages of one and five years old, they're more likely to become tangled in hanging cords where they can't escape.