Sept. 19, 2000 (Washington) -- There may now be a bit less reason for parents to worry over their little ones' safety at home. Injuries to young children from nursery products have declined for the first time since the information has been tracked, the Consumer Products Safety Commission announced Tuesday.
The commission staged its announcement inside a suburban Virginia Babies 'R' Us, as mothers and screaming children shopped their way through the store.
"Safety standards for products that parents use with their babies every day -- like cribs, baby walkers, and play yards -- have saved lives and prevented injuries," said commission chairman Ann Brown. The commission started keeping records on the safety of these products in 1973.
In 1999, according to the commission, there were 65,400 emergency-department-treated injuries that were related to nursery products in children under the age of 5. But, that was a drop of almost 20% -- more than 15,000 injuries -- from 1995 numbers.
The improvement, according to the commission, is mostly due to fewer baby walker mishaps; in 1995, there were more than 20,000 such accidents in children younger than 15 months, but this number declined to just 8,800 last year.
Walkers had often propelled young children down flights of stairs. But in 1997, the commission helped revise a voluntary industry safety standard that made them less likely to do so. Now, to meet the requirements for the new safety standard, walkers must either be too wide to fit through a standard doorway or have features that will stop the device at the top step of a stairway. Meanwhile, companies have introduced stationary baby "activity centers," which are less risky than walkers.
"Using an old baby walker is basically a mistake," said Brown, urging parents to buy new ones that comply with the latest standards.
The commission also announced that crib-related deaths have plummeted more than 75% since the early 1970s. About 35 children died annually in the mid-1990s, compared with close to 200 each year in earlier years. Most of the recent deaths, Brown said, have been caused by old cribs that pose entanglement and strangulation dangers because of faulty hardware or slats that are too far apart, which can allow a baby's head to get caught.
Since cribs from the early 1970s lack many of the safety features that have since become mandatory, the commission tells parents to invest a little more for peace of mind. "Because the crib is the place your baby will spend the majority of time alone, the best investment you can make is a new crib that meets current safety standards," said Brown.
As for the future, she predicts that injuries from nursery products should continue to decline. "We think that this trend is going to continue," she said, touting new "double restraint" systems that are now standard equipment on many high chairs.
"[Nevertheless,] we still see too many injuries from nursery products," Brown said, calling on manufacturers to test the safety of new products they are developing. The Consumer Products Safety Commission itself cannot test products before they are marketed.
The agency is in the process of helping beef up safety standards for play yards, changing tables, and baby gates. Last year, those products were involved in more than 5,000 injuries that resulted in trips to the emergency department. Between 1995 and 1997, 42 deaths were linked to play yards.
The commission is partnering with Babies 'R' Us and the Pampers Parenting Institute to alert consumers to nursery safety tips. You can find helpful safety information online at www.babiesrus.com and www.pampers.com.