Child safety report: Recalls ineffective

Alicia McElhaney
Tuesday, 18 Feb 2014 | 1:31 PM ET

Just 10 percent of children's products are returned or fixed during safety recalls, according to a first-of-its-kind report out Tuesday from a children's safety advocacy group.

Such a low number of successfully recalled products means many commonly used items that could injure or kill children likely remain in use, according to the new report from Chicago-based Kids in Danger.

Posted on the Consumer Protection Safety Commission website, the pacifiers fail to meet federal safety standards. The beard on the Artiste and the knob on the Volume pacifiers can detach, posing a choking hazard to young children.
Source: CPSC
Posted on the Consumer Protection Safety Commission website, the pacifiers fail to meet federal safety standards. The beard on the Artiste and the knob on the Volume pacifiers can detach, posing a choking hazard to young children.

"The return rate of recalls is really abysmal," said Nancy Cowles, KID's executive director. "The government makes announcements, but people don't hear about them or don't respond."

Children's product companies and regulators wait too long to recall products and the practice has contributed to infant and children's deaths, the report says. It typically takes 13 reports of design flaws and two injuries to recall products, KID says.

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A recall is a refund, repair or replacement, says Scott Wolfson, communications director at the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Companies can choose which of the the three remedies they use.

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Product recalls in the report include unstable dressers, the Nap Nanny infant recliner and baby monitor power cords.

Julie Vallese, a spokeswoman for the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association, says toys and children's products have always had low recall response rates and the issue is one several Administrations have grappled with. Household appliances tend to have the highest rates.

The study is really looking at the wrong thing, too, says Vallese.

"Return rates for products are a poor indicator of recall effectiveness since a variety of factors affect how consumers decide to respond," says Vallese, a former spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. "Many products may no longer be in use or have already been disposed of by consumers."

Cowles thinks a lack of publicity is the larger problem. Companies and CPSC distribute joint press releases about recalls and companies that have websites have to post the information online. After that, it's up to the company to share information about a recall on social media and through other platforms.

Children's product companies are trying to improve recall awareness, Vallese says. JPMA launched an education campaign last year called "It's Not Hard To Fill Out The Card," urged consumers to fill out the registration card for juvenile products.

(Read more: Graco is recalling nearly3.8 million child car seats)

"It is important to fill it out, so companies can notify a consumer quickly and effectively if a product they have purchased is recalled," says Vallese.

There were 63 recalls in 2013 involving companies that used a Facebook or Twitter page within six months prior to the recall. Of these, the manufacturer only mentioned their product recall on Facebook in nine of those cases and the recalls were only mentioned on Twitter eight times, the report says.

Many people say they hear of about two to three recalls per year, when there are typically more than 100 recalls on children's products alone made yearly, Cowles said. In 2013, there were 113 children's products recalled.

(Read more: Child trafficdeaths drop 43 percent over decade)

"Research has show that consumers need to hear about recalls multiple times before they take action," said Wolfson.

That makes social media so much more important in our mobile society, Wolfson said. CPSC is pressing companies to use social media more often to make people aware of their recalls.

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Charley Pereira of North Carolina became an advocate for child safety after his 10-month-old daughter Savannah was strangled by the cord of her baby monitor in 2010, a death that helped prompted recalls of some monitors. He has fought for stricter rules for the way baby monitors are created and succeeded in stopping companies from portraying baby monitors at an unsafe distance in advertising.

Pereira also worked to add safety labels to products to reduce their risks—and the need to be recalled. He said that many companies are hesitant to put safety labels on products because they believe it will make people too afraid to purchase them.

Cowles wants to see companies promote their recalls that way they promote their products.

"I think social media is like any other tool a company has at their disposal," said Cowles. "They should use it in the same way they would use it for advertising."

—By Alicia McElhaney, USA TODAY. Jayne O'Donnell contributed to this post.