Red alert for dangerous infant mattresses

The following is a piece by Dr Ron Somers (PhD) former external senior lecturer in public health at the University of Adelaide, former director of epidemiology at SA Health, and a long-time GP practice manager. Ron is also the CFA Standards Representative on two Standards Australia Technical Committees.

Australian consumers need to exercise caution over the coming months regarding the sleep safety of infants.  Australia could become a dumping ground for unsafe infant mattresses diverted from the US market, where they can no longer be sold because the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently regulated to ban overly soft infant mattresses, read more here. In taking this action, the CPSC has relied on the voluntary safety standard of Australia and New Zealand AS/NZS 8811.1 to define a mandatory regulation to protect American consumers. Ironically, the Australian government has not taken similar action.  Many people assume that any new infant mattress purchased in Australia will be safe for a baby, but this is sadly not always the case. CHOICE has demonstrated from product surveys that dangerous mattresses are still commonly sold in Australia, read more here, with now possibly more on their way. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is charged with protecting the public from dangerous products. It does this by regulating dangerous goods, banning those proven to be hazardous.  Although the ACCC has recently nominated infant sleep safety as a priority for regulatory action this year, it has not included infant mattresses in their Product Safety Priorities 2022-23.

Australian researchers led the world in demonstrating a link between overly soft mattresses and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  Basically, babies are more likely to suffocate on a soft mattress than on a firmer one.  Babies placed face up can roll face down.  In 1993 the first report was published showing that infants in Tasmania who rolled face down on soft mattresses were at 20 times excess risk of SIDS, while infants that rolled face down on firmer surfaces were only at three times excess risk.  Read the report in the New England Journal of Medicine here. Later studies from around the world confirmed the link between overly soft mattresses and infant death. AS/NZS 8811.1:2013 Methods of testing infant products – Method 1: Sleep surfaces – Test for firmness includes a simple test to objectively distinguish dangerously soft mattresses from adequately firm ones.  This test was incorporated into the voluntary standard. So, given our country’s international leadership in infant sleep safety, why is it that Australia is now lagging in converting its special knowledge into effective regulation?

On the morning of 16th June, Stephen Jones MP, Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services, addressed the ACCC 2022 National Consumer Congress. He said that “strong consumer support is essential for a fair community.”  He also stated that there is “a lot of catching up to do.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released a Consultation Paper on August 11 seeking submissions on proposed policy options to reduce the risk of death and injury associated with Infant Sleep Products, including Infant Inclined Products. Submissions are due by 11 September 2022.

Dr Ron Somers has invented several test methods for infant sleep safety, including a home test for safe mattress firmness that parents can use.This article was first published in ‘Australian Doctor’. Read the original.

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