The Consumer Product Safety Commission voted 4 to 0 yesterday to draft a regulation to require safety hinges on toy chests lids, which have been blamed for killing 21 children and leaving one other with irreversible brain damage in the nine years since those products were singled out as a hazard.
The action came after commissioners lashed out at toy chest manufacturers for failing to correct the problem of falling lids voluntarily.
"There has been footdragging," said Commissioner Stuart Statler. He said the industry hadn't taken the chest lid problem seriously until recently and then had waited six months to have a meeting to start developing a voluntary standard.
The minimum time needed for a mandatory chest lid rule to go into effect would be seven months, CPSC Chairman Nancy Harvey Steorts said. She said that a proposed standard for toy chests will be published in the Federal Register within 90 days.
Commissioner Edith Barksdale Sloan urged the CPSC to take steps now to alert the public to the toy chest dangers. "How many more children have to be injured or killed before we do something?" she asked.
Sloan said that the safety hinges for toy chest lids wouldn't add more than 60 cents to the cost of a chest.
Toy manufacturers -- who were not present yesterday -- are voting now on a proposal for a voluntary standard with a Nov. 29 deadline.
When Steorts said she didn't know why the toy chest manufacturers had waited until now to hold a vote, Sloan shot back: "I'll tell you why -- because of the Christmas toy sales." Sloan said manufacturers hoped to stave off commission action until after the holidays, when toy chest sales peak.
Aaron Locker, general counsel for the Toy Manufacturers of America, said the toy industry shouldn't be blamed for any delays that have occurred. He said that manufacturers will continue to work to develop a voluntary standard for toy chest lids.
"That is all we can do," he said.
Commission officials indicated that they might stop work on a mandatory rule if the toy chest makers produce a voluntary standard. "We are moving forward with the proposed regulation but we hope industry will get its act together in the next few weeks so that it [a mandatory rule] won't be necessary," said Steorts.
Complaints about toy chest makers' "footdragging" came directly after commissioners commended the manufacturers of electric blankets for their prompt and effective efforts in reducing fire risks for consumers using electric blankets. An estimated 900 injuries and 16 deaths occur each year as a result of 6,000 to 7,000 electric blanket fires.
Steorts said the electric blanket file is being closed now that voluntary standards have been developed and are being followed by industry. "This is a success story that shows voluntary efforts do work," she said.
However, consumers who bought blankets made prior to January 1982, when the voluntary standards took effect, should exercise caution because those products are not as fire-resistant as new blankets, said Bill Walton, CPSC director of engineering. He said that construction of thermostats in electric blankets has been improved.