September, 2015
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Ensuring Safety for Children at Home

CAROL DIKELSKY

By tapping into the media, consumers can receive daily advice about how to enhance safety for children at home; however, the sheer volume of information, as well as the questionable reliability of some sources, can be daunting.

There’s no doubt that people want to keep kids safe from having accidents with dangerous products or home furnishings and experiencing other hazards that can occur throughout a typical home, but how does a home inspector know what to report? Government and public health sources, as well as nonprofit organizations, provide some valuable resources.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC, www.cpsc.gov) outlines federal safety rules and regulations that apply to consumer products, including those designed for children. CSPC “is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of the thousands of types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction…[and] is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard.” CPSC’s website offers research reports, statistics and news as well as information on regulations, laws and standards. Searching the site using terms like “safety gates,” “window blinds” and “magnetic locks” reveals links to news about recalls, legal cases against manufacturers and more.

Many pediatricians and state governments offer information intended to help foster children’s safety. Check with your medical care provider or visit your state government’s website.

The Child Safety page of MedlinePlus (www.nlm.nih.gov), a resource of the National Institutes of Health produced by the National Library of Medicine, provides readable and up-to-date information about how to keep kids safe from harm at home.

ASHI President-Elect Randy Sipe, along with the Great Plains Chapter of ASHI, are some of the many supporters of Charlie’s House: The Home Safety Site (www.charlieshouse.org/). Located in Kansas City, MO, Charlie’s House is a nonprofit organization named in memory of Charlie Horn, a boy whose life tragically ended at the age of 2 when he attempted to climb a 30-in. dresser in his home and the dresser fell on top of him. In 2007, the supporters of Charlie’s House began their mission to prevent injuries from happening to children in and around the home. The organization’s core beliefs are that home safety is attainable for everyone regardless of where you live or what type of home you have and that maintaining a safe home is a continuous process. Charlie’s House website states, “Home safety requires frequent evaluation to look for new hazards and new ways to improve.”

One of the long-term goals of Charlie’s House is to open a safety demonstration home and training facility in Kansas City in which people can experience firsthand how to avoid preventable accidents from occurring in their homes.

John McCarthy, executive director of Charlie’s House, noted that home inspectors can benefit from reviewing the important suggestions and resources listed at www.charlieshouse.org. The In-Home Safety Checklist, for example, includes the following suggestions:

  • Secure dressers (even short ones), bookcases and other tip-prone furniture to the wall with furniture straps; in addition, secure televisions to the wall with television straps
  • Install safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs
  • Use plug covers or caps in electrical outlets
  • Shorten cords on appliances that could be pulled down
  • Lock or latch cabinets that children should not get into
  • Use doorknob covers
  • Test smoke alarms and change batteries every six months
  • Set hot water heater to below 120 degrees F
  • Move baby’s crib away from any windows
  • Install window coverings that are safe for children (see details in the following section on window blind safety)
  • Apply stove and burner covers and use back burners first when cooking
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen
  • Place knives and matches out of children’s reach
  • Store and lock separately unloaded firearms and ammunition

Parents for Window Blind Safety (PFWBS, www.pfwbs.org) was founded by Linda Kaiser and her husband after their 12-month-old daughter died in 2002 from a tragic strangulation accident caused by the child getting tangled in a window blind’s interior cords. Linda had followed the window treatment manufacturer’s safety guidelines to the letter—wrapping and placing the ends of the cords out of the way; however, hazardous cords remained inside the window treatment.

After enduring the ordeal of losing her daughter, Linda found strength by educating herself on this type of accident and standing up to leaders of the window covering industry and the CPSC to demand recalls of products and press for the elimination of the strangulation danger on all products that will help ensure that other children and families do not face the same tragedy she did. Linda asserts that only cordless window coverings are safe for use in any room where children might sleep and play.

Earlier this year, ASHI member Skip Walker viewed a recording of a CPSC hearing (www.cpsc.gov) during which a colleague of his had testified about ionization smoke alarms. Before his friend’s presentation began, Skip listened to Linda’s riveting testimony about window treatments and their hazardous cords. Inspired by Linda’s campaign to require safer window covering designs, he contacted Linda and began a dialogue about communicating window covering safety issues to home inspectors.

Skip noted that home inspectors’ No. 1 job is ensuring safety, and that ensuring the safety of children is especially critical. He expressed that PFWBS has raised the level of awareness about what the window covering industry is not telling consumers about safety, and suggested that home inspectors should be aware of her campaign for pointing out the life-threatening flaws in design.

Home inspectors can help by reporting the hazards of having window coverings with cords of any kind in the home, especially in rooms where children will be. Here is an excerpt of Linda Kaiser’s story that points to why describing the safety issues concerning window coverings should be on every home inspector’s checklist for discussion with their clients:

Surely every parent has heard about some of the warnings on window coverings. Tie up your pull cords out of the child’s reach; make sure there is no loop in the pull cord as is usually listed in most childproofing checklists. I followed the checklist and went through it. I placed my twins in their cribs and kissed them both good night. I could hear them playing and laughing, those little stinkers. I went in to check on them and found my 12-month-old baby girl hanging from part of the cord on a window blind in their bedroom. I grabbed her and called 911. I knew, I just knew by the lukewarm feeling of her body she was gone. …I did not understand how she could have died because I had the pull cords tied up, way out of her reach. …How could she get tangled on the other side?

The problem is that the industry keeps telling the public to buy safety kits and to keep the cords out of the child’s reach. A quote from the Window Covering Safety Council, which promotes and gives out free “safety kits”: “Because cord-safety features are now built into window coverings, we believe parents will feel more confident about their child's safety if they replace their older window coverings with the products now available.” Parents are doing what they are told by the safety council; however, what they are not told is that children are getting objects, placing them under the window coverings, reaching the cords that are tied up and strangling to death on them.

Please visit www.pfwbs.org, get educated and take down the corded window treatments in your home. There is no way to make a corded window blind, shade, roman shade, magic blind or roller shade 100% safe. There is no reason to feel more “confident” in any product with a cord attached to it. We list safer alternatives on our website, along with in-depth information about corded window coverings.

How to look for hazardous window covering products and what to say to clients if you find them.

Linda Kaiser offers the following how-to guide of questions and checklist items for home inspectors to use as they assess the safety of window coverings:

Are there any cords hanging that can be reached?

  • A child can reach any cord by climbing onto the windowsill.
  • Any short cord can become longer once the window covering is opened.
  • Any cord longer than 8 inches, or an average male wrist, can strangle a child.

How old are the window coverings?
Any product older than 10 years is no longer compliant with the national safety standard.

Check the back shades for hidden exposed cords that run upward.

Check for loose or broken tension devices attached to the wall
most devices don’t outlast the product.

Warn clients that products have been recalled if there are loops in the pull cords, exposed cords on roman shades, if tension devices are loose, or if the product is older than 10 years.

See www.windowcoveringtesting.org for examples of cost-effective products starting as low as $7.

Home inspectors weigh in on managing child safety devices on the job

Although childproofing devices can keep kids safe, home inspectors often find that expending the energy needed to maneuver around these devices in a home can be challenging. When we posted a question about your experiences with childproofing devices on the ASHI forum board, we received these responses. Do any ring true for you?

  • There are so many brands and designs of tamperproof or childproof receptacles for outlets; I wish everyone would use the basic little plastic plug-ins. –Dale McNutt, ACI
  • I learned that after dealing with so many hidden magnetic locks on cabinet doors with no magnet in sight, it’s best to just carry my own. –Ken Goewey, ACI
  • Some safety gates installed at the top and bottom of staircases can become trip hazards. –Charlie Rice, ACI
  • Even when the gate is open at the top of a staircase, it can be a hazard to anyone wearing a toolbelt or carrying a ladder while trying to pass through the gate. Also, the gate itself is not the easiest item to remove from the wall. –Matthew Steger, ACI
  • Many “child safety latches” on kitchen cabinets are sometimes rather difficult to open—even for an adult. –Matthew Steger, ACI
  • I’ve inspected homes where all the countertop electrical receptacles in the kitchen have plastic covers, but all the receptacles in the baby’s room are left open. Or a similar type of problem—some bedroom doorknobs have been turned around so the door only locks from the outside. Doesn’t seem very safe to me. –Bruce Ramsey, ACI
  • I’ve seen more eye-and-hook devices on bedroom doors than reversed doorknobs. I’m concerned and surprised whenever I see them. They even show up on the doors of rooms where older parents live. –Fred Comb, ACI
  • I like the challenge of figuring out some of the childproof cabinet latches, especially when it’s a new design and I don't know how it opens—it becomes a puzzle that I can't walk away from. Recently it took me at least 5 minutes to figure out one latch. –Fred Comb, ACI
  • A house I recently inspected had keyed locks on all the bedroom doors. The home was only six years old so it was obvious to me that the seller had replaced the builder-installed bedroom doorknobs. Of course, I recommended replacing these doorknobs and locks with proper interior door hardware. –Matthew Steger, ACI
  • Personally, I always recommend that all receptacles and outlets in a home be changed out to the new style with the built-in, integral child-safety feature. Add-on caps are only effective when they are plugged in. If you have a lamp plugged in, the plug can be easily removed by a child and then you have a conventional outlet that is unprotected. Outlets with integral protection are always protected, regardless of what is or is not plugged into them. –Skip Walker, ACI