Beyond the Fold: Window Shade/Cord Safety Standards

Change is hard. Change is especially hard when it needs to take place with something that we’ve been doing the same way for years and years and years. And so it is with Roman Shades and corded curtain and drapery products!

For as long as I can remember; and probably as long as my mother can remember – in short, a long, long time - roman shades have been fabricated using strings and cords. The problem: exposed cords and strings present a strangulation hazard.

Change is always good. Anytime I dug in my heels and resisted, I’ve always been led to the same final conclusion: change is good! And so it is with the new shade safety standards. These standards have forced fabricators and manufacturers to go back to the drawing board, so to speak, and develop new ways to create and meet new safety requirements.
Source: Leatherwood Design Company 
Table & supplies set for new fabrication method to meet standards
Every Monday morning I host #customwrkrmchat on Twitter, as a forum for networking, collaboration and education among custom workrooms, installers, designers and decorators. This morning, January 9, 2012, I invited Jenna Abbott, Director of the Window Coverings Association of America (WCAA) - the only non-profit association for the Window Coverings profession - to share the latest standards with the group. There are still so many in the industry, let alone homeowners, that are unaware of the compliance issues related to this topic. That being said, if there is one point from the chat that I want to drive home, it is this:
The standard affects YOU whether you are a workroom, designer, installer or touch Window Treatments in any way. No one gets a pass. There is no WAIVER. Standard must be followed. It doesn't matter if you are a company of ONE person, or a large multi national, you must follow the standard.
In short, anyone along the supply chain of providing custom window treatments to clients must comply to new standards, copies of which can be found here:
  • Read-only copy available (free) to the public on the WCAA website.
  • For-purchase copies available on the WCMA sells copies.
What does the standard dictate?
In a nutshell, window treatments with exposed lift cords must not form a hazardous loop. It does NOT  stipulate HOW to make the shade. It will tell you WHAT the OUTCOME must be. Want a visual? Here you go:
Source: Both images from Traditional Home, April, 2009
p.s. shades are not required to be automated, just so happens the ones on left are = compliant!
This effects roman, austrian, balloon, london shades, etc., as well as italian-strung draperies and roller shades. I'm probably forgetting a few.... to make it easy, any cord - whether it be behind, in front or on the side of a window treatment; if it has a hazardous loop, it's not compliant. Simple as that.

Common Misconceptions:
The first misconception that many have is that there is a choice. When in fact, there is not! As designers, decorators, workrooms and/or installers, we are RESPONSIBLE and LIABLE for what we produce, whether we know the standards or not. Creating the standards was voluntary, complying is not!

The second big misconception is holding a belief that having a client/homeowner sign a waiver or disclaimer will protect you. Not advisable. Having a client sign any type of waiver or disclaimer - no matter what you may want to call it - says you knew it was a problem and did it anyway. It actually can do more harm than good, seen that you were aware that a threat/danger existed yet chose to sell anyway.

Finally, a third misconception, in my personal and individual opinion, is that this is only a concern for those who have small children in the home. Let's be realistic. Most homeowners have children who visit. Many also decide to re-sell their homes and a new homebuyer is likely to be one who has children. For these reasons, you can't predict whether or not a child will be at risk or not. For these reasons, I consider the standards to be critical for ALL clients, leading me to decide a year ago that I would only sell cordless shades.

Is it realistic to meet the new standards?
Yes, the standard is realistic. There are lots of ways to make a safe shade including cordless options. Many manufacturers have released fantastic new products and the custom workroom industry has also adopted many innovative methods for fabrication. [Focus of January 16, 2012 #customwrkrmchat, 9:30am ET].

Source: Storibook Designs
Cordless, Custom Roman Shades

Source: Leatherwood Design Company
Backside view of two compliant fabrication methods
As a design professional, the options, as I see them, are:
  • Stop selling any corded treatments! This is extreme but I guess for some this may be their alternative. It is not my choice. There are many new, exciting and creative alternatives available to offer clients.
  • Motorization. Who doesn’t love a remote? Motorization is a convenient and safe option for lifting functionality.
  • Retrofit. Retrofit kits are available ( This provides you with an opportunity to communicate with and educate past clients, providing them with a new alternative.
  • Embrace the change & Expand Offerings. Design professionals can offer safety-audits to homeowners as a new service. 
  • Best bet: (IMHO) Know the standards and adopt new fabrication methods! As a homeowner, know the standards so that you can be sure you are putting the safest products in your home.
As an industry, we need to work in unison in sharing this information with all our industry partners, colleagues and clients. We have only touched the surface in spreading the message. To quote Jenna Abbott, “ignorance is not a good defense”. With that in mind, I do hope you will share this post or information with others.

Please weigh in here too, by leaving a comment below. I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions on this issue.

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