The much maligned Consumer Product Safety Commission is getting a new chairman.

Moore Tenenbaum, who most recently served as South Carolina’s State Superintendent of Education, is President Barack Obama’s choice to head the 37-year-old agency. Obama wants to strengthen the CPSC, including increasing the number of commissioners from three to five and providing the board with a hefty budget increase to $107 million, 70% higher than in 2007.

“We must do more to protect the American public — especially our nation’s children — from being harmed by unsafe products,” Obama said.

No doubt much of Tenenbaum’s initial focus will be on products included on the CPSC’s “Most Wanted” list. This short list is exclusively comprised of children’s products including kid’s tool benches, toy magnets, bassinets and cribs.

Too Many Crib Flaws, Too Many Recalls

Last month, the CPSC announced that Toys “R” Us and other retailers were recalling about 96,000 cribs manufactured by Jardine Enterprises of Taiwan. The recall was sparked by 31 reports of wooden slats breaking. In two of the incidents, children became trapped.

“Parents need to know that the quality of wood in these cribs is so poor that toddlers are actually able to kick through the wood and then create a very dangerous gap,” a CPSC spokesman told the Los Angeles Times.

This marked the third recall of Jardine cribs in the past year. The company recalled about 320,000 cribs in June 2008 and another 58,000 in January 2009.

Unfortunately, Jardine is not alone. Last October Delta Enterprises issued two separate recalls totaling nearly 1.6 million cribs made in Taiwan, Indonesia and China after reports of two infant deaths. Infant deaths also played a lead role in the September 2007 recall of nearly 1 million cribs made in China and distributed by Simplicity Inc. Delta’s and Simplicity’s products are on the CPSC’s “Most Wanted” list.

The End of Drop-Side Cribs?

Two common denominators among the more than 3 million recalled cribs highlighted here is that they were manufactured in Southeast Asia and they all feature drop-sides.

Whereas the latest Jardine recalls questioned the quality of the wood, the Simplicity and Delta recalls mainly were related to hardware problems, including missing safety pegs and spring peg failures. In Simplicity’s case, the CPSC received numerous reports of drop-sides being mounted upside down.

The documented problems with drop-side cribs have reached the point where a subcommittee of the ASTM, an international voluntary standards group, has proposed that drop-side cribs be removed from the current crib standard, which would effectively ban them.

The CPSC issued a statement potentially supporting the ASTM crib subcommittee’s proposal. “CPSC staff has been active on the ASTM standards committee and has called for swift action to address the safety of drop-side cribs.”

Considering all of man’s cumulative design and engineering achievements, this all seems so bizarre. We haven’t given up on the dream of one day going to Mars, but we may have given up the notion of designing a popular drop-side crib that offers parents convenience and a safe haven for their children.

How’s that for progress?

Simplicity Gone, But Hardly Forgotten

Regular readers of this column may recall that I took Simplicity’s owners to task in October 2007 for their horrendous handling of a recall involving nearly 1 million cribs. Backstreet Capital had just purchased the company a month earlier at an auction and claimed that any product flaws related to products sold prior to its ownership were not its problem. This forced the CPSC to take the more unusual step of issuing its own safety recall, which was quickly backed by a cadre of retailers.

In researching this article, I learned that Simplicity appears to be no more. The CPSC updated the original recall notice posted Sept. 21, 2007, on April 14, noting in red letters: “The firm appears to no longer conduct day-to-day operations. Repair kits are no longer available to fix these recalled cribs. Parents and caregivers are advised to dispose of these cribs, even if it is believed that the hardware and drop side have been installed correctly. All of the recalled cribs have the potential to pose a danger to young children.”

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