U.S. consumer agency cracks down on baby sleepers tied to dozens of deaths

babysleepers-300x217One of the federal government’s top consumer watchdogs has roused itself from its torpor and, finally, moved to ban what a leading independent group calls “dangerous infant sleepers and other products that do not align with expert medical recommendations for safe sleep.”

As Consumer Reports said of the new orders by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regarding devices linked to the deaths of dozens of babies:

“The ruling, which was approved by three of four CPSC commissioners, was years in the making — and was prompted in part by an ongoing CR investigation that has linked inclined sleepers, such as the Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play Sleeper, to at least 94 infant deaths. CR has also tied in-bed sleepers, such as the DockATot and the Baby Delight Snuggle Nest, to at least 12 fatalities. The CPSC has separately tied unregulated ‘flat sleepers’ —such as baby boxes, soft-sided travel beds, and bassinets with no stand —to 11 deaths. All told, that amounts to close to 120 infant deaths connected to one of these hazardous infant sleep products.”

Devices facing tighter federal regulation, as CR reported, include:

  • inclined sleepers (which position babies at an angle of greater than 10 degrees)
  • in-bed sleepers (which are meant for parents who want to share their bed with their babies)
  • baby boxes (cardboard boxes with a thin mattress)
  • sleep hammocks
  • and small bassinets without a stand

CR reported that the consumer watchdog’s regulation of infant sleepers will go in force “in just over a year [when] sleepers meant for babies up to 5 months old must meet the existing safety standards of one of five federally regulated product categories meant for infant sleep: full-sized cribs, non-full-sized cribs, bassinets/cradles, play yards, and bedside sleepers.”

Critics said the federal commissioners, in their 3-1 vote, had failed to provider manufactures concrete guidance as to how sleepers imperil tots. But CR reported:

“These [newly regulated] sleepers do not align with safe sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which state that babies should sleep alone, on their backs, on a firm, flat, and stable surface that is free of soft bedding or restraints in order to decrease the risk of suffocation. Yet, many parents and caregivers have mistakenly assumed that the products are safe for infant sleep. Today’s ruling, however, makes clear that only federally regulated, safety-tested infant sleep products (cribs, bassinets/cradles, play yards, and bedside sleepers) will be allowed for sale on store shelves and online.”

The product safety commission has grappled with ways to effectively regulate infant sleepers, commissioning studies, interviewing experts, and struggling with political partisanship among the panel’s members. Critics assailed the commission Republicans, particularly during the Trump Administration, for giving businesses and industry groups a green light to make profits and avoid what advocates argued were stifling over-regulation. Panel Democrats and critics countered that consumers, notably infants and their families, suffered grave consequences when the panel bogged down in its oversight of tens of thousands of goods packing U.S. stores’ shelves.

Not good. In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the terrible and preventable injury that can happen to babies and children, especially damage that can be inflicted on vulnerable consumers by defective and dangerous products, especially those of the medical kind. Consumers — adults, seniors, kids, and infants — all need the clout of the U.S. government to safeguard them against the shoddy products from makers around the globe. Bad goods flood this country and authorities can’t seem to keep up with them and to get the most dangerous of them off markets.

As Consumer Reports cautioned about risky sleepers:

“Consumers will likely continue to see these products on store shelves, for at least two reasons. First, the rule won’t take effect for about a year. In addition, the rule doesn’t necessarily require manufacturers to stop selling all the products entirely, but only to stop marketing them for sleep. They will be allowed to sell some of the items instead as loungers, a step that at least one company, DockATot, has already taken. CR encourages parents to immediately stop using any product for infant sleep that doesn’t meet an existing CPSC safety standard. If you are unsure about a product you use, contact the company. To report an unsafe product or to see whether a product has been recalled or is linked to injuries, go to SaferProducts.gov.”

We have a lot of work to do to safeguard ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities from dangerous and defective items — and to ensure that taxpayer-funded watchdogs fulfill their responsibilities to protect us as they are supposed to.

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