The European Committee for Standardization has published the long-awaited standards for internal window blinds. These three new documents will help manufacturers to improve the child safety aspects of internal window blinds, and they were drafted following a spate of deaths of young children in the UK and Ireland from 2009. These publications have been welcomed by industry leaders and consumer groups, but issues still remain, particularly with blinds that have been already installed.
The three new standards
EN 13120:2014 amends the previously existing European Standard on ‘Internal blinds – Performance requirements including safety’ (published in 2009), which lists the requirements that internal blinds need to fulfill when they are installed. The revision now includes all types of window blinds, including honeycomb blinds, Roman shades, Austrian/Festoon blinds, panel blinds, plantation shutters and roll-up blinds. It also pays significant attention to ‘protection from strangulation’ to address specific hazards posed by cords.
EN 16433:2014 ‘Internal blinds – Protection from strangulation hazards – Test methods’ is a new standard which specifies test methods, which can be used to ensure that a window blind conforms to the requirements relating to ‘protection from strangulation’ as specified in EN 13120. In other words, it ensures that the window blind will be child safe when it is installed with the appropriate safety device.
EN 16434:2014 ‘Internal blinds – Protection from strangulation hazards – Requirements and Test methods for safety devices’ is also a new standard that specifies requirements and test methods for safety devices that can help to improve the safety of window blinds and prevent accidents. In other words it will ensure that these safety devices are fit for their purpose. As a member of the working group, I have found that a raft of untested and inappropriate safety devices have been placed in the marketplace, particularly since 2009, and it was necessary to regulate these in some way. These safety devices can either be fitted to window blinds during the manufacturing process or retro-fitted to existing window blinds.
While these standards are very welcome a very serious problem still remains to be tackled. Those blinds that have been installed prior to the publication of these standards continue to pose a strangulation risk and continue to cause loss of life. While there have be no recorded fatalities in Ireland or the UK so far this year, two children strangled on window blind cords in the space of one week in Sydney, Australia. This is despite the fact that the Australian government passed mandatory standards in 2010. Earlier this month a six-year-old girl got caught up in the cords of an older type venetian blind at her home in Washington, US, and subsequently died.
This was a point raised by ANEC, the European consumer voice in standardization, yesterday. Secretary-General of that body, Stephen Russell, stated that, while “they trusted that the tougher safety standards will lead to a decrease in accidents and fatalities, blinds already installed in homes continue to give concern”. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) estimate that there are approximately 200 million window blinds hanging on windows in the UK.
As a member of the EU working group charged with the drafting of these standards for the past four years, I firmly believe that their publication will lead to a reduction in the amount of fatalities through strangulation in window blind cords and chains…..in the long term. In the short-term though, I too have concerns about the existing blinds that are in place. When one considers that the average window blind remains in place for approximately ten years (in Ireland), then it will take at least that length of time before safer blinds are commonplace in homes and buildings where children are likely to be present.
The problem is what can we do in the meantime to reduce accidents and fatalities? My answer is greater awareness and education of the general public. And this is something that Mr. Russell acknowledges. Amanda O’Halloran, from Gloucestershire, UK, who lost her 17-month-old daughter Sophie Parslow after she strangled on a window blind cord, has welcomed the introduction of tighter safety standards for window blinds, which will make them safer for young children. However, she says the legislation does not go far enough.
Speaking to the Gloucestershire Echo she said, “I am happy to know standards are changing and more is being done about blind safety, but to me it just doesn’t seem enough.
“People need to be made more aware of the dangers of blind cords.
“There need to be adverts on TV, literature about blind cord safety available to parents and advice given to them through midwife check-ups and health visitor checks.”
Since I’ve been involved in the window blind safety campaign (since 2009) it would appear that efforts to increase public awareness of the dangers of window blind cords and chains are only made after a child has either had a near-miss or unfortunately dies from strangulation. It would appear that only tragedy creates greater awareness of the dangers. It is incumbent upon government agencies, manufacturers and retailers of window blinds to educate the public and save lives.
“For blinds already installed, ANEC advises parents to keep cords out of the reach of children and to ensure a cot, bed or playpen is not placed close to a window with corded blinds.” Parents also need to be advised that simple safety devices are available for respective window blinds with cords and chains, and these can be installed in very little time. My website, www.windowblindsafety.ie, offers advice for existing blinds and highlights the appropriate safety devices required. These are inexpensive and can be purchased from your local window blind company or from www.childsafety.ie. “One child’s life lost is one too many” (Aaron O’Connell).
Aaron O'Connell, founder of windowblindsafety.ie
Aaron O’Connell is the founder of window blind safety.ie and is the Irish expert on window blind safety. He has over 30 years experience in the window blind industry. He served as chairperson of the National Standards Authority of Ireland Sub Committee on window blind safety and was a member of the EU Working Group that drafted EN13120, EN16433 and EN16434. Aaron has trained various window blind companies on child safety and has been interviewed extensively on the subject of window blind safety.