/ Parenting

Should Which? publish safety ratings for kids’ products?

Safety is clearly important to parents of young children. We publish safety ratings for child car seats, but should we stretch our safety ratings to other kids’ products, like pushchairs, too?

Last week I watched a busy department store descend into chaos as a toddler escaped from her pushchair while her mother’s back was turned. As the baby left her seat, the pushchair, which had at least three shopping bags over each handle, toppled backwards, hitting the baby and scattering shopping everywhere.

I was full of sympathy for the tearful little girl – surely the responsibility for the accident lay with the parent who’d walked away and left her unattended, unrestrained by the safety harness and in a pushchair that was badly overloaded.

Is safety your first priority?

This kind of accident is all too familiar to parents – a moment of inattention and a child doing something unexpected is all it takes for there to be tears before bedtime. This is why Which? considers whether children’s products are well-designed, well-built and meet the relevant standards for construction and safety when we test them.

Yet, as we prepare to test a load of new baby equipment, one question keeps rearing its ugly head – should Which? publish a safety rating for children’s products?

In our Baby Products survey, we asked parents which factors would be the most important if they were to buy certain products again. They told us that safety was their third most important concern for pushchairs, and their top concern for child car seats and cots.

Clearly, a child car seat is a piece of safety equipment, and the overall safety score we give it is its key performance rating. But for other baby equipment, their primary function is usually convenience, not safety.

All products can be used unsafely if you don’t use them properly – deliberately unbalancing a pushchair by hanging shopping on the handles is an excellent example.

Would a safety rating be helpful?

If we do publish a safety rating, what would the results be based on and what would people take it to mean?

Even if a piece of equipment passes all of the relevant British Standards, it doesn’t mean that it’s completely safe. In most cases it means that this product has been designed and manufactured to avoid the same kinds of hazards that have been shown to cause death or accidents in the past. And, in many cases, it’s impossible to say that a product is actually dangerous just because it fails one specific part of a safety standard.

Our current view is that we should test to the relevant British Standards and point out any failures to the manufacturers and our readers. But what do you think – would a Which? safety rating give you more peace of mind, or a false sense of security? And what would you expect of a kids’ product that had a five, three, or one-star rating for safety?

Comments
Member

Yes. Name and praise or name and shame.

Probably most manufacturers will receive a bit of both praise and criticism, so it is important to consider individual products than a manufacturer’s average reputation for safety.

Member

It might be helpful but the pushchair in the incident described was being misused, heavy shopping on handles, child unrestrained. Safety ratings are of no use when consumers misuse the product.

Member

I agree with Phil that safety ratings are no use when consumers misuse products, but I would be surprised if anyone said, no, Which?, please don’t publish safety ratings for kids products. We must all accept the premise that “even if a piece of equipment passes all of the relevant British Standards, it doesn’t mean that it’s completely safe”. The rest is up to us.

A Which? safety rating would give a certain degree of peace of mind, and then I would buy what I could afford…

Member

I’m in two minds about this. The problem with safety ratings is that too many people then blame the review/rating in a situation where they should have taken responsibility to use the product safely – as Victoria’s example proves. Isn’t this just one more step towards the culture of suing a company when a product doesn’t live up to its claims?

As a parent, of course I want to know if a product is safe, but it’s also down to me to assess each product before I buy it and then use it as safely as a I can. I worry that too much safety information just absolves parents of that personal responsibility.

Saying all that, if a product is fundamentally unsafe then of course I’d like to know before I find out the hard way!

Member

I understand Hannah’s concern.

Sometimes it is easy. If a bicycle is designed for one person then a safety rating would not be expected to cover use for carrying two people. Other cases are much less simple. It is worth Which? pointing out any features that encourage misuse and passing this information to the manufacturer.

Member

Hi Wavechange,
I’ve just re-read your comment and it has brought another thought to my mind. Pushchairs have a feature that clearly encourange misuse – but it would be impossible to push them without the handles!
Manufacturers always say don’t hang things on the handles of pushchairs – not only does it create a tipping hazard but it also wears the back wheels really quickly. Manufacturers see this as misuse and don’t cover it under the warranty.
Manufacturers do provide a shopping basket at the bottom of all pushchairs, so they do try to address a problem that we all know exists. But people still hang bags off the handles of their pushchair no matter what size basket is provided.
Sometimes people suggest that we should test to see which pushchairs tip backwards when you put bags over the handles, but we don’t do this because:
1. we know it is dangerous
2. we know it invalidates a warranty when people do it
3. all pushchairs will tip if you put enough weight on the handle
So my question is, if safety is a key concern for parents, have we drawn the line on the right place in the sand on the subject of bags, handles and tipping?

Member

That’s difficult, Victoria. One thing that would help is to raise awareness of the problem each time you do a report on pushchairs.

I see the problem as a design fault. If the handles were angled so that the bags slid down and dragged on the floor or caught in the wheels it would not be possible to use the handles to carry bags. Even if they did not reach the floor or wheels the weight would not apply the same leverage and tipping would be unlikely.

Member

I think Victoria hits the nail on the head when she says that when a product is a piece of safety equipment, like a car seat, then we should publish safety ratings; otherwise I’m not sure there’s a need. With this in mind, perhaps we should look at other producst we could be rating – bike seats, for example – but otherwise I tend to agree that publishing safety ratings for other products can merely serve to absolve the purchaser from any responsibility for thinking about its safety aspects. Far better to point out – to both consumers and manufacturers – where design features could encourage misuse. The shopping bags on the pushchair is a classic example – we all know we shouldn’t do it, but I bet there’s not a parent out there who owns a Maclaren who hasn’t at some point had the buggy tip over when the child gets out because of bags over the handles. Personally, on one occasions I put so much on the buggy it’s tipped over with the child in it. I think all we can do is point out these types of issues – introducing a system which would downgrade (for example) a pushchair as convenient and functional as a Maclaren seems to me to be a potentially retrograde step.

Member
Ben Long says:
8 September 2011

ALL products for children should carry a safety rating to allow parents to make an informed choice…no use finding out after the event if a product is unsafe!

Member

Thanks Ben. What do you think it would mean if a product got 3 stars for safety?

Member
Ben Long says:
8 September 2011

I guess it would depend on the scoring criteria and what the stars actually mean. If the specific areas of concern were highlighted then parents could make an informed choice about situations that the product may not be suitable….

Member

OK, do you mind if I experiment with some hypothetical questions with you?
1. Imagine a pushchair passes all of the British Standard tests for pushchairs except one – the folding mechanism doesn’t require two separate actions to be operated to collapse it – but the pushchair can only be folded if you pull up a handle that the child usually sits on. So it fails a Standard but there is no way that it can be collapsed with a child in the seat.
That clause is there for safety reasons and this pushchairs does not comply. But the way it is designed means there is no danger from that non-compliance – what rating does that pushchair get for safety?
2. A fabric harness that goes over an adult chair provides a kind of travel highchair booster seat. There is no safety standard in existence for that kind of product. It is really convenient and the parents who buy it give it glowing feedback. A few years after its release a warning is given by a European safety agency that the product poses a risk of injuries because it is used in conjunction with adult chairs, which are not stable enough and may topple over if the child leans over or another child pushes, pulls or climbs on the chair. The harness is used on a adult chair that passes all the relevant standards for safety, construction and stability. What rating do we give to the harness for safety? Secondly, do we call for the product to be recalled in the UK?
3. A cot passes nearly all of the British standards – but the instructions do not contain one line of safety advice that they should do ‘don’t leave your child unattended in the cot with the dropside down’. What safety rating do we give to the cot?

Member

All it would mean is that a three star rating is better than a two but not as good as a four. How many people understand what a four star NCAP rating really means for example?

Member
Jenny Sparrow says:
9 September 2011

I have a 16 month old and found information provided by Which very useful. It gave an insight into products that I wouldn’t have considered. I think having all the information good or bad is best for any parent. However, it also worth remembering that parents are looking for easy of use, if for example a pushchair that has the best rating for safety is the heaviest and is more complicated than the third safest there is a good chance the parent may opt for the third on the list.

I think it would be good for Which to look at the usability with the rate of safety. We all want to keep our children safe but we want to do things quickly to ensure that they don’t get upset and that the product is going to be easy to use.

Maybe Which could rate the safety of the product but also the safety of the ‘extras’ that you can purchase with these items.

Member

Thank you for your helpful comments Jenny – at the moment we check that a pushchair passes the British and European Standards for safety, durability and construction and we point out any problems that we find to the manufacturer and in our reviews – but we don’t publish a safety rating.
What would you think it meant if a pushchair got a 3-star score for safety?

Member
Bumbi says:
9 September 2011

As a parent, I would like to see safety ratings for a wider range of children’s products. I would use Which? ratings as guidance to help me make a more informed decision.