There is now a standard for safe window covering products called the "American National Standard for Safety of Corded Window Covering Products." The standard was developed by the Window Covering Manufacturers Association (WCMA) and approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in 1996. Because of the number of accidents and strangulation deaths of children involving window treatment cords, WCMA acted to make window covering products safer and to educate the public about the hazards of corded window covering products. These standards are designed to be used by all window covering manufacturers and fabricators from large hard treatment manufacturers to small drapery workrooms.
The purpose of the standard is stated as: "to provide requirements for covered products that reduce the possibility of injury, including strangulation, to young children from the bead chain, cord or any type of flexible loop device used to operate the product." The ways to reduce this risk are to remove multiple cords, reduce them to a single cord, or remove all cords completely.
There are several methods by which you can make your products safer and be in accordance with the standard.
The hazard with these window coverings is not the draperies themselves, but the traverse rods from which they hang. For decades, these rods have had either two cords or a cord loop hanging. The two hanging cords are much safer than a free-hanging loop, but they would be even safer if they would be wound around a high-mounted hook or cleat. A cleat is usually a two-prong device around which cords are wrapped to secure them.
A cord loop can be made safer by inserting it into a tension device. This device must keep the cords taut and be anchored to the wall or floor to make it a permanent fixture. An added safety precaution stated in the WCMA/ANSI standard is to make removal of the cords from such a device a difficult task by requiring a sequential process and/or requiring tools to remove them. Also, if you sell the product but are not not installing it, you must have the tension device already attached to the cord with complete installation instructions furnished.
Of course the best precaution is to totally remove the cords for operation and this can be done using a motorized system. The safety issue may be a good sales tool for selling this add-on feature. What better customer service could you offer than to provide safety education and the safest products possible?
The normal method of stringing soft shades is to bring all the cords to the pull side of the shade and knot them together close to the top when the shade is down. This knot is referred to as a cord stop and must be less than three inches from the top of the shade according to the standard. From that point, most workrooms braid the cords into one hanging cord with a pull on the end. An alternative to this method is to cover the knot with a decorative ball that has one single cord hanging from it to be used as the pull cord.
While the shade is down, the single hanging cord or braided cords are a minimal hazard. However, when you pull the shade up, the cord stop is lowered and the loops of cords above the stop become accessible. To remedy this situation, wrap all the cords around a high-mounted cleat. Doing this also would be a good idea for the single cord when the shade is down.
Furnishing cleats is something we have been doing for decades, but mounting them high enough may not have been done. Some workrooms may have eliminated the cleat when using cord locks. Don't just furnish the cleat, explain to your customers the reasons for using it.
There are some other, perhaps safer, alternatives. Most workrooms are familiar with the bead chain headrail systems for mounting shades. Several manufacturers and suppliers offer them. These systems wrap each cord around a tube under the headrail and the tube is operated by a continuous loop of bead chain.
These systems eliminate the danger of multi-cords becoming exposed. The chain loop, which is a hazard, can be remedied just as the traverse rod cords can. Cut the loop into two separate free-hanging pulls or use a tension device. If you do the former, be sure there is a stop on the bead chains to prevent accidentally pulling them completely out of the clutch mechanism.
Another safety device is a cord retractor. The ends of the cords are inserted into the retractor and, as it travels up the cords, the cords are wound inside the case. For maximum safety, when using this device you must be able to wind it up to within six inches of the top of the shade.
A cord release device is another way to make cords safer. This device holds the cords until a minimum amount of pressure is applied (less than three pounds) and then the cords are released. One version of this product consists of a drum-shaped mechanism into which the cords (up to five) are locked. Each cord end must have a little metal cap crimped onto it to lock it into this device. The release device is attached to the cords close to the top of the shade when the shade is down. There is one cord hanging from the bottom to be used as the pull cord. When the shade is pulled up, the cord loops are exposed, but applying a little pressure to the device will release them completely.
Again, the best safety method for shades is to remove all the cords completely through motorization. For very large shades, this makes the most sense anyway because of the weight and the number of cords to handle.
Educating the Consumer
The WCMA has gone out of its way to educate the consumer and even has a site on the World Wide Web (www.windowcoverings.org). But you must go further than just fabricating a safe product. It is essential to verbally warn and instruct your customers about the safety features of your products and how to use the window treatments safely. If you are not installing the treatments, you must educate your installer or the customer about the safety requirements and furnish installation instructions.
You also must supply warning labels and hang tags that must be created and printed exactly according to the ANSI Z535 standard. The standard specifies that you furnish two different permanent labels and two different hang tags for every shade or traverse rod you sell.
Permanent Label Requirements
Each corded window covering must contain two permanent labels, not to be removed by anyone. They should be attached to traverse rods and on the wrong side of shades with the headrail being the likely place for application.
•Warning label: This label shows the warning symbol of the triangle with an exclamation point, a pictogram of a child reaching for a cord with the universal prohibition symbol, and this message: "Young children can become entangled and strangle in cord or bead loops. Use safety devices to reduce access or eliminate loops."
Manufacturers of traverse rods must supply these labels on their rods. Labels will be available very soon for purchase by workrooms.
•Product Origin Label: This label must contain the manufacturer's, fabricator's or seller's name, city, state and the year of manufacture. If you are a retail/wholesale business and are in retail competition with your wholesale clients, it might be better if they furnished you with their own labels to attach.
Many fabricators already use this type of label, minus the year. Because it would be quite expensive for a small workroom to order new labels every year, it would be very easy to add the year using a permanent marker.
Hang Tag Requirements:
There are two categories of hang tags that must be placed on traverse rods or shade systems and removed only by the consumer.
•Generic Warning Hang Tag: This is a general warning hang tag.
•Operational Warning Hang Tags: The WCMA/ANSI standard specifies individual hang tags for seven different cord systems. You must choose one of these hang tags to be supplied with your product. As of this writing, only five hang tags apply to traverse rods and soft shades.
1. Individual Tassel Cords Hang Tag-;to be used if you have two separate free-hanging cords from a shade or a traverse rod.
2. Cord Release Device Hang Tag-;to be used if you have a device that will release all the shade cords to hang loose when minimum pressure is applied.
3. Cord with Cord Stop Hang Tag-;to be used for the standard method of fabricating soft shades in which the cords are knotted a few inches from the top when the shade is down and then are reduced into one hanging cord.
4. Tension Device Hang Tag-;to be used when a tension mechanism is attached to the wall or floor to hold a cord loop taut such as with a traverse rod or bead chain system.
5. Cord Retraction Device Hang Tag-;to be used when cords are enclosed in a device as it travels up the cords to the top.
The other two systems, which at this time are not applicable to traverse rods and soft shades, are:
1. Cord Shroud System, which would completely cover the cords at all times
2. Cord Shear System, which literally would cut the cords if minimum pressure is applied.
I want to point out that adherence to the "American National Standard for Safety of Corded Window Covering Products" is mandatory! As of this year, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) will be monitoring the window coverings industry for compliance with the standard. The CPSC has the authority to declare a product hazardous and to determine the means of correction and/or penalization as it sees fit.
Even so, there are some very good reasons why workrooms should follow the specifications set forth in the standard:
•It will save the lives of children and pets.
•If the federal government determines that too many children are being harmed by window coverings, it likely will step in and mandate safety products, procedures and restrictions that could be more costly and cumbersome than the WCMA/ANSI standard.
•Strict compliance will offer some protection to you. If you were to be sued for an accident involving window coverings that you fabricated or sold, it would reflect far better on you if you faithfully adhered to the standard than if you didn't. If you are a sole proprietor (not incorporated) and you have no liability insurance, you could lose everything you own in such a lawsuit!
•Your knowledge and expertise in safety issues makes you far more valuable to your customers whether you are selling to decorators and designers or directly to the consumer. Right now, this one area may set you apart from your competitors.
Consider these standards carefully. Watch this magazine and other product information sources for the latest on safety products and standards, or directly contact WCMA. These standards will be reviewed again in 2001 and maybe before that.
It also would be a good idea to obtain a copy of the standard to support your knowledge of the safety issues. What better customer service could you offer than to provide safety education and the safest products possible?
Kitty Stein, WCAA, is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 18 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.