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Drop-side cribs, which have a side rail that moves up and down, could be banned. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has introduced a bill to outlaw the sale and manufacture of the cribs. At least 32 infants and toddlers have suffocated or were strangled in drop-side cribs since 2000. The industry has started phasing out the cribs, and big retailers have taken them off sale floors. Although not a legal restriction per se, the move would effectively eliminate drop-side cribs – those designed to allow one side of a crib to slide down to provide easier access – from the U.S. market.

ASTM is the key voluntary standard-making body for consumer products, and that’s just one slice of what their standards encompass – most of their standard-making is done at the materials level (paint, adhesives, pipes), by hundreds of technical committees and a total membership of more than 30,000. Their consumer products division, F15, includes some consumer and trade group representatives, but is mostly comprised of retailers and manufacturers.

ASTM has a better mix of people and agendas than an organization like the JPMA (Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association) which takes anti-regulatory positions you can spot from a mile off; ASTM standards generally arise after some healthy debate among competing interests, and even the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has seats on these committees.

Those debates, however, can be interminable, and that’s what appears to have happened within F15.18, the Subcommittee on Cribs, Toddler Beds, Play Yards, Bassinets, Cradles and Changing Tables. The CPSC has done some in-depth investigation and tracking of crib-related injuries and deaths in the last several years, and the agency has been pushing this subcommittee to improve crib standards since at least 2002, specifically in two areas: Crib slat strength and drop side designs. As late as October 2007, the CPSC was urging the subcommittee to expedite the process of revising these standards.

In a letter from the CPSC to its chair, Child Craft Industries’ William Suvak, on October 11, 2007, the CPSC wrote:

CPSC continues to receive incident reports relating to crib hardware. Many of these incidents pertain to drop side hardware. Based on the structural design differences between a crib with a drop side and one without it, incident reports and evaluation of incident samples indicate that drop sided cribs are more prone to hardware problems that may lead to potential hazards. Compounding the issue is that many consumers do not realize the potentially deadly hazards associated with a crib with broken or missing hardware.

Improving the ASTM standard to address hardware issues would be a significant effort towards the goal of reducing crib-related deaths and incidents. The subcommittee should consider looking at avenues that would eliminate the use of plastic hardware on any movable component of a crib (drop sides and mattress support systems). Additionally, CPSC staff encourages the subcommittee to explore ways to amend the standard in order to significantly reduce the number of movable components of a crib.