The Ineffectiveness of Child Safety Recalls

Morgan O'Rourke


April 1, 2014


Earlier this year, baby product manufacturer Graco agreed to recall 3.7 million children’s car seats because of faulty buckles that could stick and make it difficult to free the child in an emergency. It was one of the biggest car seat recalls in U.S. history but, according to federal regulators, it was not enough. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials urged the company to recall another 1.8 million seats for a similar problem, but Graco disagreed with their assessment and, thus far, has resisted an official recall of these models. It does, however, offer replacement buckles to customers who request them.

Graco’s was only one of several children’s product recalls issued by federal agencies in February. Every month, strollers, walkers, beds, toys and clothing are recalled for issues ranging from minor structural defects to risks for choking, strangulation, finger amputation or worse. Last year, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) alone issued 114 recalls of children’s products covering more than 11 million individual units, including two recalls that involved over two million units. According to a report by child safety advocate Kids in Danger (KID), this was an 18% increase over 2012 and reversed a two-year trend of decreasing CPSC recalls, from 160 to 97 between 2010 and 2012.

More troubling, however, is what the report revealed about the effectiveness of recalls. In examining 2012 CPSC data, KID found that only 10% of recalled children’s products were ever fixed or destroyed. But this figure includes products that remain with manufacturers. Nearly 94% of products that are recalled while they are still with manufacturers are fixed or destroyed, compared with only 4.6% of products that have been purchased. Experts believe customers still possess almost 82% of all recalled children’s products. (The rest remain with manufacturers, distributors and retailers.) This means that consumers are either not responding to recall notices or are unaware of the problem.

The ineffectiveness of these recalls presents a real danger. KID found that a total of 584 incidents and 39 injuries were reported after a recall of children’s products in 2012.
“This new data makes it clear that manufacturers are not doing enough to alert parents and caregivers to new dangers in their homes,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “While we have made important strides in improving product safety, there is much work to be done to help families learn of recalls so they can remove or repair a dangerous item.”

KID recommended that manufacturers make better use of multiple channels to communicate recalls to the public. The group found social media was particularly underutilized. Of the recalls the CPSC issued in 2013, a company could have used Facebook or Twitter to warn consumers of a recall in 63 cases. Yet recalls were mentioned only nine times on Facebook and eight times on Twitter.

“Over half of the manufacturers from the report use [social media] for advertising reasons,” said Jordan Durrett, KID intern and author of the report. “Yet so few manufacturers use this potentially powerful tool to warn their consumers about dangerous recalls. More emphasis on social media notifications could raise consumer awareness and increase recall effectiveness.”

Overall, in 2013, there were 1,566 incidents, 196 injuries and 11 deaths reported before the CPSC issued a recall. According to KID, this means that, on average, it takes 14 reports of serious design flaws and failures and two injuries before a product is recalled. Better reporting and transparency on the part of manufacturers may help reduce these numbers. Ultimately, however, it may be up to parents to do all they can to stay current on safety information and report any problems both to manufacturers and federal agencies to protect their children effectively.

Morgan O’Rourke is editor in chief of Risk Management and director of publications for the Risk & Insurance Management Society, Inc. (RIMS)