Cost-Effective Remedies Not Sufficient to Prevent Ban on Drop-Side Cribs

After recalling more than 11 million dangerous cribs over the last three years, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC“) recently approved, effective June 2011, new mandatory safety standards for baby cribs and issued a ban on the manufacture and sale of cribs with drop-down sides. Childcare facilities and hotels have 24 months from the publication of the rule to institute compliant cribs into their facilities. Reports of at least 32 infant strangulation and suffocation deaths since 2000 associated with drop-side cribs prompted the CPSC’s decision.

USA Today reports that prior to the CPSC announcement over 900 incident reports were filed with 14 crib companies indicating that drop-side cribs were falling apart, injuring and killing infants. The combination of malfunctioning hardware, cheap plastics, and problems in assembly would cause the crib’s drop-side rail to detach creating a “V”-like gap and potential “suffocation zone” between the mattress and the side rail.
In response to past recalls, crib manufacturers such as LaJobi and Delta offered free “retrofit” kits to customers to immobilize the drop-side railings. While an immobilized railing deprives the user of the potential benefit of a drop-side crib, there is no evidence that the retrofit conversion kits are ineffective in remedying the safety concerns. Unfortunately, as CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum indicated in her statement [PDF] on crib safety before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, there are still “far too many parents who have not responded to recall announcements.” Even with the lack of recall response, we must question the necessity of an absolute ban which places childcare facilities in a financial quandary during an era of economic uncertainty when cost-effective measures could be taken to alleviate the potential hazards of drop-side cribs. Certainly, childcare facilities would opt for a free retrofit kit when faced with the choice of bearing the expense of replacement costs.
We here at Abnormal Use would never advocate for the continued presence of a product in the marketplace that poses potential serious injury to children. If I discovered that my daughter’s “Handy Manny Talking Tool Box” was defective and posed a serious safety hazard (besides the threat to her father’s sanity after hearing its catchy jingle repetitively), I too would become a persistent voice in the ear of the CPSC. However, a total ban on drop-side cribs only serves to alleviate an alleged design defect at the expense of the consumer.
On one hand, the CPSC is justified in its pursuit of improving crib safety standards. After all, these standards had not been revised since 1982. On the other hand, child care facilities are left to shoulder the burden of these changes when a cost-effective measure could have cured the problem. Presenting childcare facilities with the choice of either complying with the recall or bearing the replacement costs of new cribs would have protected these facilities and still achieved the desired outcome of child safety.
Through this decision, the CPSC is placing manufacturers on notice that it will not tolerate repeated massive recalls of products that pose serious threats to the safety of their users even when a cost-effective measure may be taken to remedy the design defect. Unfortunately, at this time, the CPSC decision still leaves me having to take my own draconian measures to protect myself from the serenade of Handy Manny and his toolbox.

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