Shane Malley: ‘Dangers never struck me’

A 37c SAFETY clip for blinds could have saved the life of two-year-old Arran Malley. It’s a bitter truth his devastated parents will have to live with for the rest of their lives.

A week after his son’s death Shane Malley went about the difficult task of replacing the death-trap blinds. He called into Direct Blinds in Little Island, Cork, where he was confronted by laminated newspaper articles of other Irish children who had died as a result of cord strangulation. He was shocked to find out that Arran’s case was not a one-off, freak incidence.

Co-owner of Direct Blinds, Tony O’Connell, showed Shane a small plastic child safety mechanism, costing just 37c. It’s offered — at no extra charge — with all their corded blinds. “It was the first time I’d ever heard of such a device,” says Shane.

A fitter from the company later visited their home on the outskirts of Carrigtwohill and within two hours left every blind safe.

Though an EU standard for blind safety has been in place since 2004, there is no legal obligation on Irish fitters to make blinds child-proof.

“Safety has to come from the top down. The companies which supply the blinds to the shops should also be supplying the safety devices,” says Mr O’Connell. “Just like when you buy a car, we assumed our blinds were safe,” says Gillian. “We don’t know the ins and outs of the industry.”

A piping engineer, Shane was unhappy with the condition of the cords when they were first installed and took it upon himself to adjust them. With the venetian blinds downstairs, he found he could easily shorten their cords and stop the children — Jude, four, Arran, two, and Alexandria, 10 months — from playing with them. But he found the steel-beaded cords upstairs impossible to shorten. “I couldn’t work out a way to cut through the steel and rejoin it again so that it would be a short continuous loop,” he says.

“I was aware of the danger of plastic bags over children’s heads, but I’d never heard about the dangers of blinds. I had vaguely heard from someone about the possibility of strangulation, but in my mind associated it with a cord being hung near a baby’s cot. It never struck me they could be dangerous for a two-year-old.

“As it turns out, from the research I’ve done since, most of the fatalities are children who are around the two-year mark.”

Shane and Gillian Malley are determined no other child will die as a result of cord strangulation in this country. Like Australia, they want to see a ruling where all blinds with continuous cords must be installed with a safety device.

In America a child dies every two weeks because of unsecured blind cords — this includes venetian blinds, roman blinds, cellular blinds, corded roll-up blinds and vertical blinds.

What has stunned the Malleys is the gross lack of awareness in the industry about the danger corded blinds pose to children. “An engineer now has to give a house an energy rating before a house can be sold,” says Gillian. “Why can’t there also be a law whereby a house cannot be put on the market without child-safe blinds?”

“We want 2010 to be the first year in Ireland where no child dies from this terrible death,” says Shane, who wrote to the National Standards Authority of Ireland pointing out that if a toy had caused the death of a child it would be withdrawn immediately.

His timing was apt. A revised European safety standard has just been released with specific guidelines on cord safety. In light of the tragic death of Arran Malley, the authority has teamed up with the National Consumer Agency and set in motion an information campaign targeting industry and consumers. This week sees the posting of guidelines about blind safety on the NSAI and NCA websites.

“We are writing to every importer, manufacturer and fitter — 200 in all — in the country, advising them of the revised standard,” says NSAI chief executive Maurice Buckley.

NSAI is concerned about the huge number of corded blinds already in use and urges all owners to be vigilant. “Our first step is to make people aware of the risks ... Our advice is very simple to follow: nCut the cord. nRaise the cord. nKeep beds and chairs away from blinds.

“And it would only take a few euro to buy a tensioner and increase the level of safety in the home,” says Mr Buckley.

However, he is keen to point out that these measures do not leave blinds 100% safe. “It’s impossible to eliminate risk,” he says.

Catherine Lenihan, assistant director of the National Consumer Agency, says the primary onus is on the producer and distributor to make sure their product is safe and if they discover their product is unsafe to recall it. “If they fail to do this then they would be exposed to litigation,” she says.


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