By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
After two infant deaths triggered the recall of 1.6 million cribs Monday, federal safety regulators are moving to address a longstanding gap in crib safety regulations: durability standards.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission plans to issue new regulations that deal with the hardware problems that have been at the center of five recent crib recalls and contributed to the deaths of at least two other children.
Hardware can become worn down over time, unbeknownst to parents, who often reuse cribs, sell or pass them on -- sometimes without all the parts or instructions. The two deaths -- one in May 2007 and the other in July -- that led to this week's recall by Delta Enterprise of New York City involved used cribs, CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese said.
Certain crib parts, such as mattress supports and side rails, are tested to meet durability standards. But the standards need to be more comprehensive and stringent, consumer advocates and federal safety regulators said.
"Voluntary standards for cribs have addressed many safety issues and over the years the agency has seen the number of crib fatalities go down," Vallese said, "but the voluntary standards have failed to address durability issues."
CPSC officials did not say how long it would take to issue a crib durability standard. The agency staff hopes to have a proposal for the commission to review by the end of the month, Vallese said.
Cribs with drop sides are more likely to have hardware problems, the CPSC said. Drop sides can be moved up and down, usually along a track, to make it easier to get a child in and out of a crib. A CPSC analysis of more than 1,000 reports of potential crib failures over the past year found that in many cases the drop-side corners came off the tracks or hardware that is supposed to stop the side from moving failed to work. And the problems can get worse without parents noticing, as a baby pushes or leans against the crib.
Some consumer advocates want drop-side cribs retired altogether.
"I'm not sure the drop-side bar provides enough utilitarian benefit to justify what appears to be an increased risk of strangulation and suffocation," said Alan Korn, director of public policy for Safe Kids USA, a Washington group that seeks to prevent accidental childhood injury and death.
Cribs are governed by mandatory and voluntary standards. For example, mandatory standards dictate the amount of space allowed between slats while voluntary standards issued by ASTM International, an independent standards-setting body based in West Conshohocken, Pa., cover the content of warning labels and the height of corner posts.
Consumer advocates have tried unsuccessfully for much of the past decade to get ASTM to develop a more comprehensive durability standard, said Donald Mays, senior director of product safety for Consumers Union.
Underwriters Laboratories, an independent product safety testing and certification organization based in Northbrook, Ill., has developed a "rocking test" in which a crib is shaken tens of thousands of times using weights in order to better simulate real-life use by children who jump and rattle their cribs. Canada has a similar test. But so far, no crib manufacturers have asked UL to test their products using that method, said UL spokesman John Drengenberg.
The Delta recall was the fifth in the past year involving hardware that was broken, missing or failed to function, according to the CPSC. Delta recalled 600,000 cribs made before 2006 and sold between January 2000 and January 2007 because of problems with a spring-loaded peg at the bottom of the legs that can cause the drop side to come off and create a gap into which a child can fall and suffocate. In July, an eight-month-old boy in Tallahassee, Fla., died in a Delta crib. A spring-loaded peg apparently failed and the drop side detached.
Delta recalled another 985,000 cribs made between 1995 and 2005 and one model made in 2007 that used a different type of peg. If the pegs are missing, the drop side can come off, creating a suffocation hazard. In May 2007, an eight-month-old girl from Bryan, Tex., died in a used Delta crib that had been reassembled without the pegs, Vallese said. The cribs were sold at major retailers, including Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target.com, from January 1995 through September 2007.
Hardware problems and detached side rails were also involved in the deaths of at least two children in cribs made by the now-defunct Simplicity of Reading, Pa., which led to a recall of 1 million cribs.
For more information on the Delta crib recalls, consumers can go tohttp://www.cribrecallcenter.comor call 800-816-5304.