The Consumer Product Safety Commission acted in a closed session earlier this month to halt the production and distribution of accordion-style baby gates, which have been linked to at least eight deaths of children and 23 "near misses" in recent years, a CPSC commissioner disclosed this week.
CPSC Commissioner Stuart M. Statler said that an agreement had been reached with six manufacturers for a voluntary ban at the end of this month on the production of the wooden baby gates. The CPSC action was taken at a closed meeting on Jan. 9, three years after the commission discovered that the baby gates could be deadly.
The commission said its action will not affect the estimated 10 million to 15 million accordion-style gates now in use and will not prevent retailers from continuing to sell those now in their inventory.
Baby gates are barriers designed to bar infants and toddlers from doorways and stairways. A baby could be killed or injured if its head became trapped in the diamond-shaped slat openings or the V-shaped openings at the top of the gate, the commission has said.
While Statler agreed with the commission's action, he criticized the agency for "waffling" and the companies involved for being irresponsible. Statler said the commission's delay over the past two months caused 50,000 more of the unsafe gates to be distributed.
The CPSC "slighted the public by permitting the companies to eke out every last bit of profit from leftover inventory of a product they knew to be dangerous and, in the process, overlooked the best interest of the public," Statler said.
CPSC Chairman Terrence M. Scanlon denied Statler's charges, saying it took the commission fewer than 90 days to reach an agreement to stop production after learning of the latest fatality -- an 11-month-old baby in Idaho whose death was attributed by the agency to an unsafe baby gate. Scanlon said a court battle would have taken a minimum of three years.
The law under which the commission acted calls for a delay of up to 30 days in announcing the action because it refers to specific manufacturers. The time limit gives manufacturers an opportunity to comment on a proposed commission press announcement in which they are named. Statler called these restrictions "ludicrous" and released a statement this week making the information known to the public. The agency then put out its own press release yesterday.
Scanlon said the baby gate manufacturing industry was cooperating with the commission and had agreed to halt the manufacture and distribution of the product after Jan. 31. The agency's action will not affect gates already in stores.
But Statler insisted that lives could have been saved by swifter CPSC action because safe alternates are available. The CPSC has said that safe baby gates include those with a straight top edge and a rigid mesh screen, those with plastic grids and those with vertical slats.