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Day Cares, Hotels Must Replace All Cribs on U.S. Safety Rules

U.S. Crib Design Rules May Cost Day-Care Industry $500M
A child could fall if the drop side detaches at the bottom. The cribs are linked to at least 32 deaths since January 2000. Source: CPSC

U.S. day-care centers and hotels will have to replace all cribs after a U.S. safety regulator approved what it called an unprecedented rule to prevent infant deaths and injuries.

The five-member Consumer Product Safety Commission was unanimous in a vote today to mandate sturdier cribs and ban the drop-side design, linked to at least 32 infant deaths from falls or strangulation since 2000. Commercial providers may pay $467.5 million to replace 935,000 cribs based on an average cost of $500 each, according to CPSC estimates.

The rule will be among the toughest in the world, CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said. Child-care centers and hotels will have two years to replace them after commissioners voted four to one to extend the deadline to give makers time to meet the surge in demand and to ease costs.

“So many of these are small businesses which may not have the resources to replace their cribs all of them at one time,” Tenenbaum said. The vote delivers on a promise to Congress and parents to “establish robust mandatory standards aimed at keeping babies safe in their cribs,” she said.

Tenenbaum has made crib safety one of the biggest priorities at the CPSC in her 18-month tenure. Her “safe sleep” initiative is broader than the crib rule, encouraging parents to place sleeping infants on their backs and warning about the risk of suffocation from soft bedding.

Tougher Tests

The regulations approved today will result in cribs with tighter fittings and more durable sides and mattress supports. Tougher tests will be used to simulate wear over time.

The agency estimates there are 2.4 million new cribs sold each year in the U.S., with approximately 591 full-size and 81 non-full-size models. Sixty-eight companies make or import full-size cribs in the U.S., the CPSC said.

The rules will affect 59,555 day-care firms and 43,303 hotels and inns, the CPSC estimated.

A trio of child-care industry groups -- the National Head Start Association, the National Association for Family Child Care and the Early Care and Education Consortium -- puts the price tag for replacing cribs at $600 million.

Child-care centers typically replace cribs every 10 years, the groups said.

Drop-Side Cribs

The cost of replacing drop-side cribs alone may be about $550 million, Marie Darstein, executive director of the National Child Care Association, said in an interview yesterday.

The Washington-based trade group, which represents businesses such as day-care chain Sunshine House, had told the CPSC its members believe existing cribs are safe because their staff check on children in them.

“Every recall, we’ve done,” Darstein said in the interview. “Every retrofit, we’ve done. No one is being left unattended. We’re being treated like we’re the manufacturers.”

In the months leading up to today’s vote, Tenenbaum emphasized the need to eliminate the drop-side design. The agency has spearheaded 20 recalls by makers such as Dorel Industries Inc., covering more than 7 million drop-side cribs in the past three years, and affecting retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Materials costs may rise more than 10 percent as manufacturers use more robust components to comply with the rule, said Linda Villa Woody, a spokeswoman for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.

The trade group represents LaJobi, a subsidiary of Kid Brands Inc., and Stork Craft Manufacturing Inc., two of the biggest U.S. crib makers. Wal-Mart, Babies ‘R’ Us, Target Corp., J.C. Penney Co., Burlington and BuyBuyBaby are the six largest U.S. crib retailers, according to the JPMA.

Lead-Paint Scare

Drop-side cribs allow one side to be raised or lowered on tracks, providing parents with easier access to the bed. Infants can suffocate or be strangled when the hardware fails and a side detaches, creating a gap.

In response to the Chinese lead-paint toy scare that spurred Mattel Inc., the world’s largest toymaker, to recall Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street figurines, Congress gave the CPSC mandates and deadlines to improve children’s products in the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

In the case of cribs, Congress asked the agency to implement its regulation retroactively, making it illegal for retailers to sell non-compliant cribs. It also specified that places of public accommodation, like child-care centers and hotels, shouldn’t use cribs that don’t conform to the new rules.

`Peace of Mind'

“Parents and caregivers should have peace of mind that when they leave their baby in a crib that their baby will be safe,” said Rachel Weintraub, product safety director for the Consumer Federation of America. “For too long, that has not been the case.”

The need for the tougher testing was evident for years before Congress acted, said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Chicago-based Kids in Danger, an advocacy group. Aside from the drop-side design, other kinds of hardware failures have resulted in fatalities, she said.

Cribs made under the new rule will be much safer than existing models, even ones that have been repaired through recalls, Cowles said.

“There’s going to be a huge difference in how sturdy these cribs are,” she said.

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