These are sleepless times for manufacturers of baby cribs, especially those of the drop side variety.

In the past two years or so, approximately 7 million wood cribs have been recalled in the United States and Canada by virtue of no less than 10 separately issued recall announcements by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. More than one dozen infant deaths have been linked to cribs included in these recalls. In most of these cases, a malfunctioning drop side rail was cited for creating an entrapment hazard, leading to the child’s death by suffocation or strangulation. 

Testifying before a House subcommittee on crib safety last week, CPSC Chairman Inez Tennebaum, said “crib safety is a personal priority of mine. Parents across the country expect cribs to be a sanctuary for their children, regardless of that crib’s price or size. I share this belief and have made crib safety a cornerstone of my work as chairman of the CPSC.”

Recent events would suggest that she means what she says. Less than two months after Tennenbaum was confirmed as the ninth CPSC chairman in June, the CPSC added Simplicity drop side cribs to its “Most Wanted” list of product recalls. The CPSC said that Simplicity cribs are implicated in 11 child deaths. In November, The CPSC issued its largest crib recall ever, this one involving 2.1 million drop side units sold by Storkcraft. Then, last week, CPSC announced the recall of 635,000 Dorel Asia cribs.

Last week’s House subcommittee hearing set the stage for creating more stringent crib safety standards, including the potential ban of drop side cribs. The hearing also focused on the need for tougher trade agreements that put greater emphasis on product safety. Most of the 7 million recalled cribs were made in China or other Asian nations.

In most of the recall announcements, the CPSC remedy has been encouraging consumers to contact the recalled crib manufacturer or importer for a repair kit to replace warn or broken parts on the drop side mechanism. That's easier said than done to find recalled crib owners, make sure they understand the recall, act to obtain the replacement parts and properly install them.

Manufacturers have a responsibility to design safe products and produce them with durable parts that will last. Based on the slew of CPSC recall announcements, this has frequently not been the case.

Yet, in fairness to crib makers and importers, it has to be pointed out that they have no control over how their products are used or maintained by consumers. Cribs tend to be used for multiple children by one or more families. They are frequently taken apart and reassembled and not always properly. Broken or missing parts are often not replaced. In the case of the Dorel Asia recall, the company said an investigation of the death of a 6-month-old Iowa boy revealed that his crib’s drop side rail had been fixed with duct tape. Not exactly according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

How might new crib standards be crafted to safeguard children, but also protect manufacturers/importers from being blamed for misuse of their products? Would these new requirements present a substantial cost burden to manufacturers and ultimately the consumer? How will CPSC deal with consumers who loan or sell recalled cribs to family or friends?

Considering the recent trend of product recalls, government and public scrutiny and the liability lawsuits that have already been initiated and the many that are sure to follow, please explain to me why would any company would want to be in the crib business?

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.