Rick has blogged in this space about how the onslaught of recalls by the CPSC is numbing to consumers. Boston Globe writer Sylvia Pagán Westphal has taken notice in a column over the weekend:
The safety scare
Separate dangerous products from those that pose little risk
By Sylvia Pagán Westphal | July 7, 2010
IF YOU’RE the parent of a young child and want to be very scared, don’t waste time looking for horror movies on TV. Just go to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website for child product recalls. You won’t be able to sleep for days.
The site features an interminable selection of common children’s products that have been recalled. Some of the depictions are downright gruesome: in cases of defective cribs, for example, there are pictures of baby dolls with necks pinned down between rails, or of their little faces pressed against a mattress, as if suffocating. The intent is, to be sure — for I see no other reason to scare the wits out of an unsuspecting, Internet-roaming mother — to jolt parents into action if they own one of the products.
One recent afternoon, I was clicking through the recalls page when I realized, to my dismay, that during my 9-year stint as a parent I have owned several of the featured items. My colorful rainforest-themed baby swing was there, and so was one of my cribs. The baby sling I used with my son was recalled after three babies suffocated in 2009. The kinds of bath seats I used (and loved) with my daughter aren’t sold anymore, following various recalls.
I never found out about these announcements. Had I taken the time to register each product I might have heard from the manufacturers, but I didn’t do it, and neither do most of the parents I know. Some pediatricians’ offices and stores post selected recall sheets, and there is an e-mail list from Consumer Product Safety Commission one can opt into, but with over 100 of these announcements per year it’s hard to keep track of the information.
Part of the problem is that recall announcements don’t explicitly distinguish between problems with products that are truly dangerous and defective versus products with sub-optimal design that, when used properly, pose little risk. For example, the commission recently recalled a bed because one child got his head stuck in its storage compartment. Not to take away from that kid’s pain, but I have numerous compartments in my home where my children’s heads would fit if they tried hard enough.
In a way, some of the announcements appear to be directed at shielding us from our own parental incompetence. Millions of baby bath seats and walkers are no longer sold due to drownings and falls suffered by babies who were basically left unsupervised. The recent high-profile recalls of drop-side cribs were prompted by deaths that, in some cases, were caused by cribs that were incorrectly put together or were subjected to shoddy home repairs.
Don’t get me wrong: to the extent that these recalls remove poorly designed products from the market the efforts should be praised. If motels and hotels are forced to carry safer cribs, that’s a good thing. But the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other safety advocacy groups should be mindful of putting each recall into perspective, so as not to unnecessarily scare the public. For example, the multiple recalls (and likely national ban) on drop-side cribs comes after 32 documented deaths over the last 10 years and millions of cribs sold. That’s surely 32 deaths too many, but more children die each year choking on food.
There is a real downside to a system that feeds into our nation’s growing safety paranoia, which isn’t healthy either. Many of my overseas friends have a hard time understanding our obsession with safety — we put locks on our toilet seats, cover the corners of tables with rubber guards, and use hand sanitizer with ever-intensifying zeal. Taking that baby walker away, just like covering the table corners, is a bit like avoiding air travel for fear of crashing, while still driving a car every day. The world is a very dangerous place to raise a child. Leave the house and there are hard edges, pointy rocks, and steep inclines everywhere. As much as we’d like to, we just can’t childproof those too.
Sylvia Pagán Westphal is a regular contributor to the Globe opinion pages.
Posted to Rick's Blog by Alliance for Children's Product Safety Staff