How Safe Are Those Infant Products?

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How Safe Are Those Infant Products?

by Sonny Garg

Reprint from the Chicago Tribune Chicago, IL.; May 6, 2001
Sonny Garg is the CEO of Interactive RealTime Technologies and a member of the board of Kids In Danger

The infant-bathseat issue currently before the commission provides a representative illustration of the dangers inherent with the current regulatory system. When bath seats were first introduced in 1981, the product was subject to no government or industry safety standard. In fact, the leading manufacturers of the bath seat, Safety 1st, admitted in a deposition to not having a single safety engineer on staff to test the product. The commission learned of the first bath-seat drowning in 1983. By 1994 there were 18 known drowning deaths, but rather than recall the product, the commission asked the industry to develop a safety standard for the product. Over the next five years, while the industry worked on this standard, 43 more infants drowned in bath seat-related incidents. Today, with the number of babies drowned at 67, the commission is reconsidering recalling bath seats, but it remains unclear whether it will or not.

Full Text:

Common sense suggests the unpleasant image of an infant suffering a skull fracture would be impetus enough for product manufacturers to put safety before profits and more thoroughly test the reliability of the handles on their car seats prior to releasing them into the market. However, when it comes to ensuring the safety of infant products, common sense does not seem to apply.

Recently, after some 97 reported injuries, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled about 3.4 million Evenflo Co., infant car seats because the handle can snap off, sending a child plummeting to the ground. Evenflo Co., however, is not alone; this is the fifth major recall of an infant car seat by various makers since 1998, and brings to 10 million the number of car seats recalled in that time.

Yet, problems with infant car seats are just the tip of the iceberg. Similar safety problems exist with the larger universe of nursery products, like cribs, strollers and bath seats. According to the commission, an estimated 65,400 children under age 5 were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 1999 for injuries associated with nursery products, with an average of 87 children under age 5 dying annually in incidents associated with nursery products. The commission issues a recall for children’s product at a rate of almost one every two days, and in 2000, this translated into almost 37 million items being recalled. Even more outrageous, and frightening, is that recovery rates for recalled products hover around 15 to 20 percent, meaning that millions of infants continue to be at risk.

While these statistics are startling, they are not unexpected, given the lax manner in which nursery products are regulated. Although charged with regulating more than 15,000 child and adult products, the commission’s annual budget of $41 million is less than the federal budget to regulate animal medicines. With its meager funding, the commission does not have the resources to publish independent safety guidelines for nursery products, and instead is forced to encouraging industry representatives to draft them. Even in those cases where safety guidelines exist, manufacturers are not required by law to test their products for compliance with them.

The infant-bath-seat issue currently before the commission provides a representative illustration of the dangers inherent with the current regulatory system. When bath seats were first introduced in 1981, the product was subject to no government or industry safety standard. In fact, the leading manufacturers of the bath seat, Safety 1st, admitted in a deposition to not having a single safety engineer on staff to test the product. The commission learned of the first bath-seat drowning in 1983. By 1994 there were 18 known drowning deaths, but rather than recall the product, the commission asked the industry to develop a safety standard for the product. Over the next five years, while the industry worked on this standard, 43 more infants drowned in bath seat-related incidents. Today, with the number of babies drowned at 67, the commission is reconsidering recalling bath seats, but it remains unclear whether it will or not.
With more than 200 children’s products being recalled annually, it is unrealistic to expect caregivers to be aware of every recalled product. Instead, the key to protecting children is to prevent recalls from happening in the first place.

Congress needs to pass a law with two essential provisions. First, the legislation should establish a panel consisting of representatives from industry, consumer groups, appropriate government agencies and independent child-product engineers and experts, to review existing safety standards for nursery products, and develop new ones where needed. Second, the legislation should require that manufacturers have an independent third party certify that manufacturers’ nursery product meet established safety standards. Products that do not meet safety standards would be prohibited from being released into the market.

Currently, when people go to a store to buy an electronic product they can check for an Underwriters Laboratory seal on the product. This tells them independent engineers have tested the product to ensure it complies with safety standards. Given that we test lamps and clock radios for safety, isn’t it common sense to apply similar safeguards to products designed for children?

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