August 19, 2022

After Long Battle, Safer Cribs

Here is a testing laboratory for the largest crib maker in the world. Eight hours a day, five days a week, cribs are beaten and battered by machines, subjected to the kind of malevolence a demonic toddler could only dream of doling out.

“We look for structural problems,” said Joseph Shamie, co-president of the company, Delta Children’s Products. “And we look to see if screws loosen.”

As of last month, the company does not have much of a choice.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued new regulations for cribs that the authorities say are the toughest in the world. The most pronounced change is that drop-side cribs, long a nursery staple, are prohibited from being sold. But manufacturers must also strengthen the crib slats and mattress supports, make crib hardware more durable and subject their products to tougher testing.

“Our standard is so rigorous that a new, compliant crib has to go through more than 75,000 cycles of testing (shake tests, mattress support tests, slat tests) to get certified,” Scott Wolfson, the safety commission spokesman, said in an e-mail.

But even as the new standards took effect on June 28, some manufacturers had not had all of their cribs certified by testing laboratories, frustrating some retailers who have been stuck with cribs that they are not permitted to sell. Manufacturers discontinued other cribs that most likely would not have met the new standards, so retailers sold them at steep discounts or gave them to charities before the rules took effect.

At the Baby Boudoir store in New Bedford, Mass., the owner, James Vieira, said some of his cribs were “in quarantine,” with a sticker saying “For Display Purposes Only,” until he gets a green light saying they pass muster. He estimated that he gave 150 cribs to charity and sold 25 cribs at the last minute at fire-sale prices. “We were practically giving them away,” said Mr. Vieira, who estimated he would have to toss 40 or 50 cribs into the trash.

Small retailers had sought an extension to carry out the new rules, but the safety commission voted it down, 3 to 2, deepening a partisan rift among commissioners as Democrats prevailed. The commissioners did agree unanimously to grant an 18-month extension for day care facilities and hotels to switch to cribs that comply with the new standard.

“The whole crib standard saga is a good illustration of how not to regulate,” said Commissioner Nancy A. Nord, a Republican. “We rushed the standard out without doing the hard work upfront to understand the impact of the regulation.” But the commission’s Democratic chairwoman, Inez M. Tenenbaum, dismissed her Republican colleagues’ complaints.

“After dozens of babies had tragically been entrapped and died, and millions of defective cribs had been recalled, the actions of this commission to ensure the swift movement to market of only safer cribs undoubtedly was justified,” she said in a statement.

Mr. Vieira, the Massachusetts retailer, said his complaint was not with the regulation.

“It’s certainly a good thing we are making cribs better,” he said. “We didn’t have a problem with the regulation. We have a problem with how it was implemented.”

The retailers’ complaints, however qualified, have received little sympathy from parents whose children have died in cribs.

“You can’t tell the safety of a crib by looking at it, and you certainly can’t maintain its safety because it met weak industry standards in place prior to 2010,” three sets of parents wrote in an open letter to the industry. “Those that killed our sons also met those same inadequate standards.”

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