On January 13, a European safety standard for baby walkers, which will help to prevent many childhood accidents, has been published in the Official Journal, following its formal adoption by the European Commission. Hospital emergency data from both the EU and the US over the last 20 years consistently shows that baby walkers are a hazard, with thousands of infants treated for baby walker accidents every year. Research from Australia indicates that at least one in three children using baby walkers will be injured at some point. Further research from the UK’s Child Accident Prevention Trust estimates that more children are injured by baby walkers than by any other nursery product. Baby walker accidents, such as tipping over or falling down stairs, can be very serious, as in most cases they involve injuries to the head. The EU standard introduces a requirement for stability tests during the manufacture of baby walkers, and for the design to be geared towards reducing the risk of injuries. Member States backed the Commission’s proposal to introduce this standard at the General Product Safety Committee (GPSD) in November 2008 and the European Parliament has also welcomed the decision. The standard will provide all economic operators and market surveillance authorities will have a clear, quick and single reference for making, importing or checking baby walkers for safety.
EU Consumer Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva said: ‘This standard will help to keep the EU’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens safe. Although parental or adult supervision is the ultimate protection for a child, extra safety precautions in the manufacture of children’s products are also crucial.’
What is a baby walker?
Baby walkers are devices on wheels that help very young children who can’t yet walk to move around by means of their feet. They are generally used as soon as the baby is able to sit up unaided and until the baby is able to walk independently. Children using baby walkers range from about 6 to 15 months of age.
What is the problem?
Baby walkers are responsible for thousands of infant injuries every year in the EU. Accidents from baby walking frames are mainly due to falling down stairs or tipping over, especially when children try to move over uneven surfaces such as door thresholds or carpet edges. Injuries resulting from such accidents can be very serious, because in the majority of cases they affect the child’s head.
Data from Portugal shows that 850 children between the ages of 7 and 15 months need emergency treatment due to injuries related to baby walkers. Half of the cases are due to falls down stairs and more than 60% of injuries are to the head.
In the UK, the Child Accident Prevention Trust estimates that baby walkers cause more accidents than any other nursery product, with over 2 350 babies taken to hospital in 2002 following baby walker incidents, almost 70% of them aged less than one year.
A study from “Le Centre Hospitalier” Universitaire de Toulouse between 2003-2006 showed that 178 babies between 7-12 months were admitted for emergency paediatric treatment due to a fall in a baby walker.
Given the rising incidence of injuries caused by this equipment, Member States requested that a safety standard be set at EU level.
What is the procedure?
The standard was developed by the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), and is already being used by market surveillance authorities in Member States when checking the market for unsafe childcare products. Such EU standards are voluntary but a product manufactured according to a standard published in the EU Official Journal is presumed to be safe. If manufactures chose to deviate from the EU standard, they have to ensure that their product provides – at the very least – the same safety levels and requirements indicated in the standard. This requires substantial additional, specific certification procedures which can be avoided by simply using the EU referenced standard. De facto, EU standards tend to become the industry norm.
What are the main changes, elements in the new standard?
The main risk from baby walkers is from tipping over. To address this, the new standard sets out stability tests and requirements that reduce the risk of tipping over. The new standard (Reference: EN 1273:2005) contains requirements and tests for the manufacture of baby walkers, so that the child’s ability to reach for dangerous items and fall in unstable places, such as stairs or curbs, is reduced.
Warnings and instructions to adults are particularly important to ensure the safe use of baby walkers, as, as it is ultimately up to the supervising adult to make sure that the environment around the child in a baby walker is as safe as possible. Moreover, baby walkers are not a learning device for walking, and prolonged use can interfere with the natural development of a child’s walking abilities. For that reason, the standard also requires baby walkers to carry instructions which draw adults’ attention to the fact that the product is not intended for children above a certain weight or for those who are still too young to sit upright unaided.
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