#childsafety | Identifying Safety Concerns Before It’s Too Late

As September comes to a close, so does Baby Safety Month, annually celebrated and sponsored by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). Now in its 29th year, Baby Safety Month is meant to help raise awareness about the safe use and selection of products meant for kids.

Because as it turns out, not everything you can purchase for your child in a store is safe.

Legal Doesn’t Always Mean Regulated

Holly Choi is the co-owner of Safe Beginnings First Aid, a group that supports parents across North America with simple tips to keep their babies and toddlers safe. As an infant and toddler safety educator, first aid instructor, Child Passenger Safety Technician-Instructor (CPST-I), and a member of the International Association for Child Safety, Choi’s areas of expertise are infant and toddler injury prevention, first aid, child passenger safety (car seat safety) and childproofing.

Choi works with parents every day, answering their questions about how to keep their babies safe. One of the first things she recently told Forbes is that when it comes to products being sold in stores, there is often a major difference between what is legal and what is regulated.

“In both the United States and Canada, there are certain products that are regulated by the government, for example: cribs, car seats and play yards, to name a few,” Choi explained, adding that consumers can find this information on the Consumer Product Safety Commission website in the United States and Health Canada website in Canada.  

But not every baby product is held to those same standards.

“A common product that has been deemed unsafe but remains for sale is baby walkers,” Choi said. “In Canada, baby walkers were banned in April 2004, yet in the United States they remain on the market.”

While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has repeatedly called for a ban on baby walkers in the United States, citing the thousands of injuries that occur each year because of these devices, Choi said the process of banning products can be time consuming and involve many levels of government.

“This is one of the reasons many unsafe products remain on the market long after issues are identified,” Choi explained.

The Pros and Cons of Flame Retardants

Choi frequently hears new parents, especially, express concerns abut flame retardants in sleepwear and car seats. “These flame retardants are an important factor in keeping our children safe in the event of a fire,” Choi explained. “In the case of car seats, it’s a mandatory requirement for car seats, under section 302 of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).”

Still, some organizations (to include JPMA) have called for these standards to be revisited, citing excessive levels of flame retardants that may be being used.

“Many car seat manufacturers have decided to take matters into their own hands and have begun manufacturing car seat and stroller fabrics using merino wool, which is naturally flame retardant and meets the flammability testing standard without the use of additional chemicals/additives,” Choi said.

If this is something you’re personally concerned about, you can inquire about the fabrics being used in various products and whether or not flame retardants were added.

Knowing How to Select Safe Baby Toys

“While most parents are aware of age recommendations on toys, and that toys labelled ‘Not intended for children 0-3’ are generally potential choking hazards, there is an additional test we should be doing on toys before we leave children under the age of 3 to play with them unsupervised,” Choi said.

She called this the “Toilet Roll Test.” Despite the silly name, it’s fairly simple to perform. Just try passing the toy in question through an empty toilet roll. If the toy fits through the roll, you should exercise caution—the child will also be able to fit the whole toy in their mouth.

“This can lead to a few issues, especially if a child trips or falls with the toy in their mouth,” Choi said, citing the risk of tooth or palette damage, or absolutely worst-case scenario, choking.

But with a few precautions, Choi said parents can feel safe leaving their child to play on a blanket by themselves for a few minutes whenever Mommy or Daddy need to use the bathroom or answer the front door. They just have to ensure the child is in a safe space, free from hazards and that the toys they are left with are age-appropriate and don’t fit through a toilet paper roll.

So what do you do with those toys that don’t pass the toilet roll test?

“If a baby or toddler’s toys fail the toilet roll test, it does not mean a caregiver needs to dispose of the toy,” Choi said. “They should instead keep them in a separate bin and only bring them out when they can supervise the child’s playtime and react if necessary.”

The Most Important Safety Products

It’s no surprise that Choi called car seats one of the most important safety devices in a child’s life. What is surprising is that statistics show parents across North American are failing to use car seats properly.

“Safe Kids Worldwide (safekids.org) estimates more than half of car seats in the United States are used or installed incorrectly.” Choi said.

To avoid this, Choi encourages parents to review their car seat installation with a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST). In the United States, parents can connect with a CPST in their community via the Safe Kids website. And in Canada, they can connect with a CPST in their community via the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada (CPSAC) website.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, some technicians are operating with strict safety protocols in place, and some are offering virtual seat checks via a video call,” Choi explained.

Keeping Your Home Safe

If Choi could give parents only one piece of advice, she said it would be to anchor their furniture at home. “This hazard exists in every home across North America and the majority of parents are unaware of the dangers associated with unanchored furniture,” She said.

When explaining this to parents and caregivers, Choi asks them to look at their furniture through the eyes of a curious toddler:

“Does a bookcase look like a ladder? Could I pull the drawers out of that dresser and make a staircase? Is there something up there I want to play with, but can’t reach?”

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, Choi said parents should  expect the child will attempt to climb it.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Anchor It! campaign, 459 children have died from tip-over accidents in the United States since 2000, and 67 percent of those incidents involved children between the ages of 1 and 3.5 years old. An additional 12,500 children were injured badly enough to require emergency room treatment due to tip-over accidents between 2016 and 2018.

“The current recommendation is, at a minimum, anything 3 ft tall should be anchored to the wall” Choi explained, adding that children have died from shorter furniture.

“Best practice: if it’s tall and heavy, anchor it,” Choi concluded, pointing parents to the International Association for Child Safety’s (IAFCS) Childproofing Experts website for more information on how to properly anchor furniture.

Know Better, Do Better

It isn’t always possible to avoid every potential accident, and parents could make themselves crazy trying. But with just a little extra knowledge and effort, quite a few hazards could be avoided—allowing for a safer and happier childhood all around.




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