January 24, 1985  
Release # 85-006

(Washington, D.C.) -- The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission today announced that it has reached agreement with six manufacturers of V-shaped accordion style baby gates to halt voluntarily further production and distribution. The Commission staff believes these gates present a strangulation hazard in the V-shapes along the top edge of the gate and in the diamond-shaped openings in the body of the gate. These gates are commonly used to block entry of infants and children to stairs and other rooms in a home.

This action was taken by the Commission after an eighth death involving an accordion style gate occurred in Meridian, Idaho, in October, 1984. In that incident, an 11-month old infant died from strangulation when his head became entrapped in a diamond-shaped opening in the body of an accordion style gate. Since 1975, the Commission is aware of seven additional deaths when children's heads became entrapped either in the V-shaped openings along the top edge or in the diamond-shaped opening of the accordion style gates. There have been at least another 23 non-fatal incidents associated with these gates.

The firms that agreed to stop producing and distributing the accordion style gates are Madison Mill Inc., Nashville, Tennessee; Mapes Industries Inc., Great Neck, New York; North States Industries, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Nu-Line Industries Inc., Suring, Wisconsin; Paris Industries, South Paris, Maine; and Worldbest Industries, Cudahy, Wisconsin. The companies stated that these actions are not an admission that these products present a substantial product hazard.

At the same time the Commission accepted each firm's proposal to stop production and distribution, it instructed the staff to consider regulatory options if any firms market accordion style gates in their present design after January 31, 1985.

In requesting that accordion style gates not be manufactured or distributed by the six firms or any other firm after January 31, 1985, the Commission recognized that other styles of baby gates are available that do not present the strangulation hazard. Examples includes gates with a straight top edge and rigid mesh screen, gates with plastic grids, and gates with vertical slates. Additionally, a number of the six manufacturers are considering future modifications to their accordion style gates which apparently would eliminate the strangulation hazard.

The Commission is continuing to work with the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, through the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), to develop a voluntary industry-wide standard that addresses the issue of head entrapment and other risks related to all baby gates.

The Commission warns consumers of the potential for strangulation in the V-shaped top edge and in the diamond-shaped openings in the body of the accordion-style gates. Consumers are urged to use other style gates which are safer and which do not present the head and neck entrapment hazard.

The action taken by the Commission does not affect the estimated 10 to 15 million accordion style gates in use today and does not prevent retailers from continuing to sell accordion style gates now in their inventory.

Dissenting Opinion Of Commissioner Stuart M. Statler

I strongly disapprove of the Commission's reluctance to back its enforcement staff earlier in seeking to halt the manufacture and sale of dangerous accordion-style, 'VI-shaped wooden baby gates. As a result, as many as 50,000 additional unsafe gates may have made their way into the marketplace and American homes, presenting a strangulation risk that will be with us for years to come.

Back in 1981, staff detected a pattern of hazards tied to these gates and put the industry on notice when our investigators visited their premises. In spring 1982, bowing to a 1981 mandate from Congress to defer where possible to voluntary industry action to correct a hazard, the Commission -- in an action I joined in but now regret -- deferred any ban on further production of these gates. Instead, we accepted the industry's verbal commitments to promptly address the risk through an industry-wide voluntary standard.

But, progress on that standard was tardy in the extreme. The industry began getting together in late May 1982, yet the standard still is not completed. While executives of the firms dragged their feet, no company demonstrated either sufficient concern or economic vision to take the initiative to correct its own product and render it safe. None modified its product to eliminate the lethal risk. Each continued to market a product they knew to be unsafe -- a product that had already resulted in deaths and near-deaths. Each continued to produce as if, perchance, the hazard might suddenly go away on its own. It didn't.

The price for this delay has been excessive. When the process began, CPSC was already aware of 16 incidents (including 6 deaths) to youngsters between 9 months and 2 1/2 years whose heads or necks became entrapped. Since then, at least 2 more children that we know of have died from these gates and another 15 endured near-misses.

As a result of yet another such death in October 1984 and the fact that dangerous 'V' designs were still being sold, CPSC enforcement staff sent a letter in early November 1984 to the six known manufacturers of these gates urging that production cease without further delay. The letter brought results. Five of the six firms either halted or indicated that a halt was imminent. Had the Commission moved then to bolster this staff action -- or had we done nothing more -- production and distribution of these unsafe gates would have stopped. . .for good.

Instead, the Commission chose to meddle and question the staff's authority to write such a letter. The industry learned of this indecision and began backtracking. Delay followed delay while the Commission waited to schedule a briefing and a vote. Finally, on January 9, 1985, the Commission met and finally churned out a cut-off date for these gates. After January 31, 1985, the agency's enforcement staff is authorized to pursue appropriate action to prevent further risk. This date was picked as a sop to two very small gate manufacturers who simply refused to comply with an earlier termination, to which the rest of the industry had- already agreed. Each alleged business difficulties -- namely, that they still had inventory left over.

The Commission's waffling means that some firms will still be producing and distributing dangerous accordion-style gates through the end of January 1985, some 2% months beyond the November date for cessation that was in-hand. If, in the years ahead, even one more such IV'-shaped gate causes a child's death as a result of this belated cut-off, who's to blame? Whose interest was served?

The Commission should have supported its staff in November 1984 by acting with dispatch, not delay. Failing that, we should have responded in a manner that acknowledged the actions of those firms who, albeit belatedly, agreed not to market hazardous gates as of December 31, 1984. Instead, the Commission slighted them by permitting their competitors to eke out every last bit of profit from left-over inventory of a product they knew to be dangerous and, in the process, we overlooked the best interests of the public whom we are mandated by law to protect.