Interest in Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s first baby is increasing as the due-date approaches. The choice of name, the blanket it is swaddled in, and the clothes it wears, will all make frontpage news and this will, in turn, alter fashions and the choices made by other new parents. While companies may wish to take advantage of these opportunities, they must make sure their products are safe and comply with relevant regulations. To ensure products are safe, they must understand the variety of risks that can impact young children, and the importance testing to gain a deep understanding of their products can have on mitigating those risks.
Newborns spend much of their time asleep, often unattended. While this may seem like a safe environment, it can be deadly to young child. Very young children are often incapable of extricating themselves from dangers, such as suffocation or strangulation by inappropriate bedding. They are also capable of unknowingly creating dangers for themselves.
There are several risks that children’s products can present to babies and children. These include internal asphyxiation (choking), entrapment, hyperthermia (overheating), strangulation, external asphyxiation (suffocation), scalding by flammable materials, and injuries from falling, ingestion of parts of a product, and chemicals. As a child develops it may also exacerbate the potential for danger when it begins to use the product in ways not envisaged during its development.
Manufacturers need to consider age, height, weight and ability when developing baby products. They also need to consider intended and foreseeable uses of the product, but the individual behavior of the child cannot be ignored. Behavior can be difficult to predict, which can make the child more vulnerable.
Some risks are visible and obvious – e.g. the greater risks of falling associated with starting to walk. Predicting how a child may misuse a product, however, is more difficult. To counter this, manufacturers are advised to ensure their products adhere to applicable safety standards and ensure that the correct testing is undertaken to produce safe products.
Manufacturers also need to consider the changing nature of the risk as the child develops. For example, when a child is very young and immobile, sleepwear must be designed in a way that protects the infant from breathing issues. It must also protect the child from hyperthermia if the room is too warm or the child is dressed too warmly.
As a child grows, however, the sleepwear they wear as an older child must consider the fact that the clothing will no longer be restricted to the bedroom and bed. Because the child may now wear her/his sleepwear outside of the bedroom, there is an increased possibility of the product coming into contact with a flame – e.g. open fire or kitchen appliance. Sleepwear aimed at older children therefore needs to be assessed for flammability.
Risks associated with cords and drawstrings also change as the child develops. Young children may not know how to manage these items and can become entrapped. Older children will know how to deal with them but they may find themselves caught if the cord is trapped, for example, in bus doors or on a bicycle.
Manufacturers also need to consider the risks associated with the way product comes into contact with skin. This, again, reflects the need for consideration of how a child may use and misuse a product. They must consider both obvious risks and those resulting from unintended uses of the article.
For example, there is the obvious risk associated with hazardous chemicals touching the skin. Unintended consequences, however, might include a young child licking a shoe or an older child wearing a shoe without socks or with the tongue folded inside. If the manufacturer has not considered these outcomes during product development, the child may be at risk of touching harmful chemicals, or they may rub their skin against metal eyelets.
To effectively mitigate risk for a child is difficult. Manufacturers need to rely on deep analysis of their products and ensure that effective testing of their products is completed at various stages of the development process. Deep analysis should be an integral part of the whole design and production process, with risks being identified and solutions imposed as required. In addition, production must be controlled to ensure only the highest safety standards are maintained.
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