Just as you would want to make sure that the airbags in your car have gone through rigorous testing to keep you and your family safe, it is also important to consider the same when purchasing a cot/crib and mattress for your baby. Whilst Europe, the USA and Australia/New Zealand have stringent safety testing and standards, it is not always the case in South Africa.
What is the risk of buying something that has not been tested?
Research carried out by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission provides an indication of the most frequently reported accidents and defaults associated with cots:
- Falls from cribs
- Problems related to the drop-side of a cot (drop-side cots are now illegal)
- Babies getting their limbs caught between the slats of the cot
- Wood-related issues such as slats breakages and detachments
- Mattress support-related problems
- Mattress fit problems
- Paint related concerns
- Miscellaneous problems with the crib structure (sharp catch-points, stability or other structural issues)
What are safety standards or regulations?
Safety standards are developed to help prevent and decrease the possibility of accidents or injuries when using a product. In order to be sold in first world countries, a product needs to pass specific requirements and established rules.
A product that has been independently tested and meets the specific standards will be provided with a number which can be published on the product to indicate to consumers that it has been thoroughly tested and is deemed safe for use.
The USA and Europe include and base their safety standards on the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM). The ASTM International is a non-profit organisation with experienced members who assist in developing standards for all product areas including infant equipment. They are globally recognised and work together to create a consensus of standards.
Some of the testing criteria cots must adhere to according to the ASTM include:
- General Requirements:
- No hazardous sharp points or edges
- No small part choking hazards
- Any paint or surface coating must adhere to relevant standards
- Be resistant to collapse
- No scissoring, shearing or pinching hazards
- Performance Requirements:
- Structural integrity
- Stability Fabric
- Other Requirements:
- Warning label permanency requirements
- Instruction requirements.
What safety standards and regulations are in place in South Africa?
South Africa does not have its own set of safety standards in place to regulate any infant related products including cots and mattresses. From what we can determine, baby cots and mattresses are not legally required to have passed any kind of safety testing before being allowed to be sold in South Africa.
Many imported products do have the required approval and have undergone the relevant testing.
However, we have many locally made products that do not appear to have undergone any sort of testing and may not meet the international safety recommendations or guidelines.
While it may be assumed that manufacturers try their best to ensure that the products they make are safe, it does not guarantee that they have gone through any safety testing or meet the minimum safety standards of other countries. This means that any product can land up on the shelf leaving the purchaser in the dark about its safety.
These products often have the word “safe” or “endorsed” somewhere on the packaging which leads you to believe that it has undergone some form of formal safety testing, when this is often not the case. The information provided is often unverified.
One of the large unregulated sections of products produced in South Africa stems from well-meaning manufacturers who design baby products intended to keep your baby comfortable.
Whilst the locally made items may be beautiful and popular and seem benign, they may be untested, unmonitored and do not comply with the safety standards in first world countries.
In such instances, there is no way of knowing the quality of materials used or the standard of workmanship and construction as there is no safety quality control. This potentially poses a risk to the safety of your baby.
Why is it important to only use safety approved and tested products?
By purchasing a safety approved product, you benefit from knowing:
- That the product you are using is reliable
- You are able to check if there are any recalls due to safety concerns or defects
- That each part of the product has been assessed for possible hazards
- The materials used to make the product are not harmful to your baby
- The risk of suffocation, choking and SIDS are decreased
What does it mean if an item has been recalled?
A product which has been recalled should be returned to the manufacturer when a defect which could harm the user or negatively impact the performance of the product is identified or reported.
For example, the CPSC reported that a cot was recalled because the leg could become partially detached from the crib’s headboard and footboard, posing an injury hazard.
For American product recalls, you can check https://www.saferproducts.gov/PublicSearch
For Australian product recalls, you can check https://www.productsafety.gov.au/recalls/browse-all-recalls
Safety practices you can put in place when buying a cot or mattress:
If a product you are considering buying has not been safety tested, or even if it has been safety tested, it is useful to make sure of the following (based on recommendations from the CPSC):
- There are no missing, loose, broken or incorrectly installed screws, brackets or other hardware on the cot.
- There should be no more than 6cm between crib slats to ensure that a baby’s head or body cannot fit through the slats.
- No slats are cracked or missing.
- The corner posts must not be higher than 2mm to prevent a baby’s clothing getting caught.
- There must be no decorative cut outs in the headboard or footboard to ensure that a baby’s head does not get trapped if a toddler tried to climb out
- The top rail of the cot should be at least 66cm above the top of the mattress support. This is measured when the mattress support is at its lowest. If the cot has a drop gate (not to be confused with a drop side which is illegal) then the cot side must be at least 22.8cm above the mattress support when the gate is in the open or lowered position.
- The paint should not be cracked or peeling. Lead paint which was used before 1978 must be avoided.
- The cot must be smooth and not have any splinters or rough edges.
- The mattress fits tightly within the cot with no gaps which could allow a baby to get trapped.
The mattress must be firm.
- Read our blog article on choosing the right mattress
In addition to comparing the cot to the CPSC standards, it is recommended that the following also be considered:
- Make sure that the cot that you purchase has a label indicating the date of when it was manufactured as well as the model number so that you are able to check for any recalls due to safety.
- Check that no part of the mattress can come loose and become a choking hazard. An example of this would be the zip on the cover.
- It is also important that no alterations are made to the cot as this could compromise it’s safety.
Many cots sold in South Africa are imported and have undergone the required testing and have the relevant approval certificates. The majority of cots and infant mattresses which are locally made do not go through any independent safety testing, however, as a parent you can use this information to make an informed decision when purchasing a cot and mattress for your baby.