Coroner blasts MBIE over lack of roman blind regulation after toddler's death

A Coroner has blasted the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) for failing to properly inform parents of the dangers of roman blinds after a toddler was strangled in her bedroom.

Coroner Mary-Anne Borrowdale said in a ruling released on Friday it is "regrettable" that MBIE has taken "no steps" to develop product regulation over the blinds.

The ruling follows the tragic death of a 19-month-old girl who was choked by the inside cord loop of a roman blind in her bedroom.

Borrowdale found the toddler had likely pulled the blind back from the window and entangled her head and neck in the inner cord on the reverse side.

Blind cord asphyxiation has killed at least six children since 2009 - and while people are somewhat aware of the dangers posed by the free-hanging cord which allows the blind to be moved up and down, the inner mechanism is just as dangerous.

"The family tragically affected by this death were unaware of the hazard posed by inner blind cords, located at the reverse of the blind. Their custom-made blind was supplied with no safety information," said Borrowdale.

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

Graeme Rose, the managing director of Window Treatments NZ, told Newshub the findings are "horrible but not unexpected".

"We know a cord in a window is a serious hazard and can be partly mitigated by homeowners but also by the industry - it has a responsibility to improve or modify what it's been doing in the past."

He said there's no regulatory body in New Zealand that manages this risk - so he can only speak for his company.

"We started in 1984 so we've been around longer than most and  from our point of view we make a point of, particularly in domestic quotations, we encourage the use of cord tidies on the side of the blind."

He said the company doesn't install blinds that have cord loops in the back.

There are currently few to no procedures in place to protect against blind cord asphyxiation, aside from warning parents about the free hanging cord.

New Zealanders rely on MBIE's risk mitigations - which include following standards from the UK, Europe or Australia, or using "their own self-assessment".

Borrowdale says MBIE needs to step its game up and ensure parents are educated about the risk by making it low or cost free to alter their existing blinds, which do not come with safety information.

She says education needs to extend past ensuring blinds are not installed near furniture - it should include the need to check all sides of the blinds to make sure there are no loose cords, and ensuring corded blinds are never used in bedrooms, or playrooms of young children as this is where most injuries occur.

Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, David Clark, told Newshub the family involved has his "deepest sympathies".

"I welcome the Coroner's findings around how we might be able to protect children from the risks posed by window blind cords," he said.

"There is a continuous process of identifying and assessing risks to consumers from products, and considering how to respond to them in a proportionate way."

He says particular attention is paid to any product that poses a risk to the health and safety of children.

"This is why in the past three years, the Government has issued a product safety policy statement for button batteries and banned inclined sleepers.I have confidence that MBIE will consider the Coroner's findings in any advice they supply to me."

MBIE has acknowledged the coroner's finding and said it would take full account of this finding.

National Manager of Consumer Protection Mark Hollingsworth said MBIE's condolences are with the family after such a tragic accident.

"This accident and the coroner’s report highlight the risks that roman blinds, blind and curtain cords/chains can present in the home."

Like Borrowdale, he recommended anyone with young children at home ensures roman blinds are not placed at or lowered to a height that can be reached by young children, no furniture is near a window blind and all cords are tied up.