When is A Bumbo Seat Safe Enough?

Hi Folks! Just read about this warning regarding Bumbo Seats — little seats that look even safer than normal seats because there’s a big, hmmm, I guess “bumbo” in front of the crotch, wedging the child in. (See below.) About 4 million — that’s 4,000,000 — have been sold. And now they are being recalled for retooling — basically adding a safety belt — after reports of 2 baby skull fractures. (Two, that is, while the seat was on the ground. Another 19 occurred when the seat was on a raised surface and presumably the child fell out or off.)

Now, look, nobody wants a baby’s skull fractured. (Do they?) But listen to this quote in USA Today:

“Too many children were injured while using this product,” says Consumer Federation of America product safety director Rachel Weintraub. “The fact that the manufacturer is changing the product by including restraints is incredibly significant.”

It is INDEED significant, in that it indicates that any manufacturer can be coerced into a product recall if someone insinuates that without it, the manufacturer DOESN’T CARE ABOUT BROKEN BABY SKULLS. The specter of a lawsuit, or boycott, or just a glaring TV talk show host is enough to make any company quake in its booties.

But when something is safe 99.999% of the time (I’m sure one of you will do the actual math), is that not SAFE ENOUGH? As the reader who sent me notice of the recall said, “Why don’t we recall laps, while we’re at it?”

Well? Why DON’T we? After all, laps are non-standard, germy, and once in a while there’s a cat vying for the same space. Unsafe! Unclean! Unfair! Let us officially recommend parents come in for an emergency lap repair kit allowing a neighborhood surgeon to graft a restraining belt onto all adult tummies.

Oh — not willing to have a belt grafted on? I guess you don’t CARE about babies’ skulls. – L.

 photo

Wow does that seat look extremely unsafe.

Adorable “Build-a-Choking Hazard”?

Hi Folks! As a reader named Michele wrote to me last week, “2011 wouldn’t quite be complete without wrapping up the year with another recall for the safety of our children!”

She was referring to the recall of a mere 300,000 “Colorful Hearts Teddy” Build-a-Bears because the material they’re made of is “sub standard,” and hence COULD rip, and if it did, the eyes COULD fall out, and these, in turn, COULD pose a choking hazard. That’s a lot of “coulds,” and the Consumer Product Safety Commission notes on its website that it has heard of no incidents or injuries.

Which is why I am always going crazy.

Yes, it is good to be safe. Yes, it is good to try to keep choking hazards away from small children. But if “something bad COULD happen” is the standard by which we deem things safe or unsafe, first of all we would have to get rid of all pocket change, because a kid could choke. Next? All buttons on all garments, because these could (and demonstrably have in the past) fall off. Just don’t keep a thimble around the house to fix ’em because…well, you know about thimbles. Meantime, we’d have to get rid of cardboard, because a piece could be torn off and choke someone, as could a piece of food — best to empty the fridge, or at least puree all its contents.

I know this recall is probably prompted by a fear of lawsuits on Build-a-Bear’s part: Warn now and deflect any potential suit later. But when 300,000 items are destined for the trash on the basis of no problems whatsoever, I keep thinking we just have to get a grip.

To make a society completely risk-free is not only a fool’s errand, it is wasteful. It’s like the time one of my kids was in the E.R. and the nurse cut a bandage and then threw the scissors away. I’m sure it’s because the standard practice there is to avoid all infections by simply tossing out anything that ever touched anything. But when are we allowed to give a little thought to the flip side? The side that says maybe there’s something lost when we keep tossing out perfectly good stuff rather than figuring out how to safely live with it?

So goodbye, you threatening little plush toy with the incredibly leaden name. (“Colorful Hearts Teddy”? That’s about as imaginative as, “Printed Fabric Friend.”) See you in the junk yard, next to a whole lot of other perfectly good stuff. — L.S.
Picture of recalled Teddy Bear

Boozy Babies & Other Overhyped Panics

Hi Readers! Here’s my Wall Street Journal oped from last week. Enjoy! (Or whatever.) — L.

Perhaps 2011 will be recalled as the year that a toddler accidentally got served an alcoholic drink at a Michigan Applebee’s. Not the biggest news this year, but the fact that it was a national story at all shows we can’t seem to tell the difference between one stupid accident and a terrifying trend that we must do something about immediately!

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The Applebee’s saga, back in April, was just this: Some waiter grabbed a mislabeled container and poured the 15-month-old a very potent cup of juice. The parents noticed something was wrong when, the mother reported, the boy started saying “hi” to the walls.
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Applebee’s went apoplectic with pro-activeness, declaring not only would it retrain its entire wait staff that instant, but from now on it would only use single-serve juices.
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Which is not an evil response, of course (except environmentally), but it sure is overkill. Applebee’s reacted as if serving toddlers stiff drinks had been company-wide policy.
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The child’s parents, meanwhile, reacted as if the kid had been deliberately served a plateful of steaming plutonium. Their “emotional distress” was so great that they—this will shock you—sued. Whether the individuals are mirroring corporate hysteria or vice versa, the final score was: Overreaction, 2. Common sense: 0.
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This collective decision not to distinguish between rare screw-ups and systemic dangers is turning us into neurotic Nellies who worry about, warn against and, finally, outlaw very safe things. My favorite recall from the Consumer Product Safety Commission a few years back concerned a chair that had a screw protruding from the underside. While the commission reported that there had been “no reports of injuries to humans,” there had been “one report of a dog’s fur becoming entangled in the screw.”
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Woof—call my lawyer! When a twisted tuft is enough to prompt a 20,000-chair recall, that’s setting the safety bar pretty high.
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The bar gets set even higher when a human being is hurt. Consider the fact that this past year a Toronto grammar school outlawed all balls except the soft Nerf kind on its playground, after an adult was hit in the head by an errant soccer ball and suffered a concussion.
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Concussions are nothing to sneeze at. Neither is the idea of kids standing around during recess. You could argue that if kids don’t get the chance to toss a ball around, they themselves are at risk of everything from depression to obesity to Kinetic Fun Deficit Disorder. (Okay, I made that one up.)
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Play, like life, comes with the possibility that someone may get hurt. When we overreact to that possibility, the only acceptable activity left is to sit on a chair and wait to die. And let’s just hope that chair that doesn’t have a screw protruding underneath.
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The Toronto school eventually got its balls back, as it were, after parents protested. But there are schools around our country that do not allow running, or tag or playing in the snow, for the same reason: Something terrible once happened to someone doing that somewhere on earth, and that’s enough to spook us.
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As usual, the media are at least partly to blame, because they are the ones bringing us these awful anomalies and acting as if they’re relevant to our daily lives. The 2011 story that best illustrates this was the case of Carlina White, a 23-year-old woman finally reunited with her birth mom after being abducted as a 19-day-old baby from a New York hospital.
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Despite the fact that baby abductions are exceedingly rare — CNN reports that last year a single baby was abducted from a health-care facility — that same news network felt compelled to give its viewers tip after tip on how to make sure this does not happen to them. Overreaction or ratings grab? Same thing.
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“Know who wants to steal your baby,” warned a CNN.com article that went on to explain that most baby-stealers on the maternity ward are women in their mid-20s to mid-30s—as if that doesn’t describe almost every non-baby-stealer there, too.
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The piece also stated that, “The single most dangerous time is when mom goes to the bathroom,” so “Put your baby in a bassinet and roll it into the bathroom with you.”
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I’m sorry, but if the chances are literally about one in 4 million that a baby is going to be abducted, the idea that a mother who has just gone through childbirth now has to drag her bassinet into the bathroom to be safe from a nearly nonexistent threat is more than ridiculous. It’s cruel.
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So if you want to enjoy a happier, healthier 2012, it’s very easy. Just ignore the temptation to overreact to miniscule threats . . . and have a shot of whatever that toddler was drinking. — L.S.

The War on Children’s Playgrounds

Hey Folks — Branching out. Here is my story on the cover of today’s Salon, all about how our quest to make playgrounds safer than safe has also made them safer than fun. Here’s a snippet:

…For the past 40 years or so, we have certainly been working to make our playgrounds safer than safe — maybe even safer than fun. Seen an old merry-go-round lately? Or a swinging gate? How about a seesaw — the kind without springs, where, when your so-called friend suddenly plopped you down, you felt it?

Didn’t think so. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued reams of playground regulations and actually gone so far as to recommend against “tripping hazards, like tree stumps and rocks.” Maybe we should just bulldoze the local parks and put in a couple of blobs…made of plastic.

The idea, of course, is that playgrounds need constant overhauling because kids are hurting themselves unnecessarily. But that depends on your definition of “unnecessary.”

“Children rise to risk,” says Joan Almon, executive director of the U.S. Alliance for Childhood. “Give them some genuine risk and they quickly learn what their limits are, and then they expand their limits.” The problem is: If kids never encounter even tiny risks, they never develop that thing we call common sense.

Read on, at Salon! (Hey, I’m a poet, too!) — Lenore

Crazy Safe!Gov’t Recalls MACHETE as “Laceration Hazard”

This is ever so slightly off-topic (except that it highlights our societal assumption that everything is unsafe and everyone is super stupid), but thank you, Reader Laura, for sending in today’s product recall . The Consumer Product Safety Commission is telling consumers to immediately “stop using” the 20-inch-long, saw-tooth Gerber Gator Machete (related to Gerber hunting knives, not baby food), because stitches could result “if the user’s hand slips off the handle and slides forward across the machete blade.”

I’ll bet this product could cause a lot of harm, too, if accidentally sawed across somebody’s windpipe. And imagine if someone used it to clean their ears! Whew! So thank you,  Consumer Product Safety people, for thinking hard about saws and safety! We are all better off for it! — Lenore

P.S. Hey readers — thanks to your comments I finally understand that this is a 2-fer device: One side saw, one side knife. That being the case, I do understand the need, if not for a recall, at least for a little guard (like the kind you put on skates) that you could put over the sharp side when you’re using the saw. Sorry I didn’t get that at first! — Lenore

This device should probably be recalled, too. CAUTION! May cause falling trees!

You’ll Love These!

I sure did. Ridiculous recalls: http://bit.ly/lBmfc

Protecting Kids from “Dangers” Like Rhinestones. And Books.

Hi Readers! Remember during the summer I ran a post by businessman Rick Woldenberg about the wacky new Consumer Product Safety law? Here’s a little of what he said:

Readers of Free-Range Kids may not be surprised to learn that Congress has enacted far-reaching legislation to save your children from the dangers involved in reading an old book, riding a new bike or even using a Barbie pen. That is, if after using these items, they generally eat them. 

Feel safer already? The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act  became law on August 14, 2008 and it dramatically changes the way we regulate children’s product safety.  After several toys from China were recalled in 2007/8 for high levels of lead, Congress wanted to do something – anything — so it did. And went way overboard.

Until then, the Consumer Product Safety Commission focused only on products that posed an actual threat to your child’s safety – things like faulty car seats, or toys with small parts that could break off and cause choking. Under the new law, Congress imposes arbitrary standards that require the manufacturers of pens, shoes, t-shirts, ATVs, bikes, books, backpacks and toys to “prove” the safety of their products, and label them a new way.

 It sounds like a good idea to prove your product is safe before it hits the shelves. But because the law now covers every single product made for children up to age 12, many products well-known for being safe –  books! socks! — are being regulated for the very first time. Huge wasteful costs are being imposed on all of these products.

Think about it: Less than 0.01% of all children’s products are recalled in a typical year. But now the other 99.99% will have to prove their safety first.

That law lead to horrors like thrift shops throwing out their pre-1985 children’s books because they couldn’t prove that the ink inside those books was lead-free. Really!

So finally Congress is holding a hearing on the law this  Thursday, Sept. 10. You’d think our elected offiicials would call in some scientists, or even parents, who could pretty effectively argue that this law covers  way too many products that really are not harming children. Things like rhinestones on T-shirts, and the rocks studied in geology class. (Not radium. Rocks!) 

The problem is not just that this law is ridiculously all-encompassing. It’s that that the law gives the Consumer Product Safety Commission zero  flexibility to exercise judgment: anything that may have lead in it, even if the agency ITSELF believes there is absolutely no health risk, is still banned. Calling Kafka!

Unfortunately, the Committee inexplicably is planning to call exactly one witness to this hearing: the chairwoman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission herself. That excludes, obviously, folks like Rick, a maker of educational toys, and folks like me, a mom who argues that as much as I adore safety we are going overboard trying to protect children from unbelievably remote dangers. Including the dangers of eating books and socks and rocks.

The whole Free-Range philosophy is that we cannot protect children from everything without sealing them inside a tower (which poses its own dangers, agreed?). And to protect kids from old books — sheesh. Where would I have been without my dog-eared, yellowing copy of “Little Women” growing up? A book I loved but somehow managed not to eat?

If you’d like to write an email protesting this law or lack of public input, please send it to housecpsiahearing@cox.net.  Rick says he will make certain it’s submitted. For additional information and to see Rick’s letter go to http://tiny.cc/DIRiy

Thanks — Lenore (off to munch on a delicious chunk of granite)