The Consumer Product Safety Commission, expressing outrage that manufacturers still are making toy chests with the potential to injure and kill children, voted yesterday to require safety hinges on all toy chests.
At the same time, commissioners urged that consumers who already have toy chests in their homes either add safety hinges to them or remove the chest lids to avoid the chance that the lids will fall on children's necks and heads.
Toy chests without the safety hinges have been blamed for killing 21 children and leaving two others with irreversible brain damage in the nine years since those products were singled out as a hazard, the commission said.
Aaron Locker, general counsel for the Toy Manufacturers of America, said that there is no need for the mandatory rule because at least 84 percent of the industry already complies with safety-hinge requirements proposed by the CPSC.
About 300,000 hinged toy chests were made during 1982 by an estimated 30 manufacturers, according to the CPSC. No statistics were available on the number of toy chests now in use in American households.
All four members of the commission voted for the mandatory safety lids, including Chairman Nancy Harvey Steorts, a Republican appointee who traditionally has preferred voluntary action by industry rather than mandatory regulation by government.
But "the time has come for a mandatory rule," Steorts said, because "we are seeing industry cooperation, but not enough."
Commissioner Stuart M. Statler said that staff surveys show that manufacturers of at least 20 percent of the toy chests on the market are continuing to "make and distribute a toy chest that can crash down on the head or neck of a child and kill him or her or permanently injure him or her."
"To me, it's outrageous," Statler said. "More than that, it's unconscionable that any manufacturer would make a toy chest without safety hinges.
"A manufacturer would be stupid--crazy--to keep manufacturing toy chests without safety lids after this date," Statler said, because of the potential losses from product liability lawsuits.
But lawsuits "won't bring the child back or restore his or her intelligence," said Commissioner Edith Barksdale Sloan. She also voiced concern that the toy chest industry might attempt to dump chests without safety lids "in poor neighborhoods where they would put them on sale."
Commissioner Sam Zagoria said that the safety-hinge requirement represents a "simple, cheap fix," based on staff estimates that the hinge can be added to the chest for a cost of about $1 or less.
The rule, which is being drafted by the commission staff, would apply to all containers with hinged lids that are marketed for storing children's toys. The effective date would be at least three months after the rule is published in final form in the Federal Register.