Products Liability Law Daily CPSC updates the safety standard for high chairs
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Friday, April 2, 2021

CPSC updates the safety standard for high chairs

By Susan Lasser, J.D.

The agency makes mandatory the most recent ASTM voluntary standard, which includes stability testing for reclined seat high chair products.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued a direct final rule updating the mandatory standard for high chairs to incorporate by reference the ASTM’s most recent version of the voluntary standard for high chairs. The updated rule includes stability testing for reclined seat high chair products that uses a CAMI Newborn Dummy rather than a 40-lb weight. The rule is effective on July 3, 2021, unless CPSC receives a significant adverse comment by May 3, 2021. If CPSC receives such a comment, it will publish notification in the Federal Register, withdrawing this direct final rule before its effective date (CPSC Direct final rule86 FR 17296, April 2, 2021).

In June 2018, CPSC published a consumer product safety standard for high chairs under section 104 of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) [see Products Liability Law Daily’s June 13, 2018 analysis]. The standard incorporated by reference the ASTM voluntary standard that was in effect for high chairs at the time-ASTM F404–18, Standard Consumer Safety Specification for High Chairs-without modification. The CPSIA sets forth a process for updating mandatory standards for durable infant or toddler products that are based on a voluntary standard when a voluntary standards organization revises the standard.

On April 3, 2019, ASTM notified CPSC that it had issued a revised standard for high chairs, ASTM F404–18a, which added a new subsection 6.5.1 to exempt high chairs intended for infants who are unable to sit upright unassisted (birth to approximately 6 months of age) or who weigh 20 lbs or less (reclined seat high chairs) from sections 6.5.2. Forward and Sideways Stability, 6.5.3. Rearward Stability, and 6.5.4 Stability with Child Climbing into Chair. CPSC staff reviewed this revised standard and found it did not improve high chair safety. CPSC staff was concerned that exempting high chairs and high chair accessories intended for children who are unable to sit upright unassisted from stability requirements was not consistent with other product standards that are intended for the same age group, such as bouncers and bassinets, which also are intended for young infants, but are tested to stability requirements to prevent tip-overs. The staff’s review of high chair incident data showed that tip-over incidents resulting from occupant movement within the high chair, or from external forces, such as a sibling or caregiver acting on the high chair, do occur with children 6 months and younger. Based on staff’s recommendation, CPSC voted not to adopt the revised voluntary standard and maintained the mandatory standard based on ASTM F404–18.1.

Latest voluntary standard for high chairs revision. On January 4, 2021, ASTM notified CPSC that it had again revised the voluntary standard for high chairs, approving ASTM F404–20 on October 1, 2020. Based on CPSC staff’s review of ASTM F404–20, CPSC will allow the revised voluntary standard to become the mandatory standard because the revised requirements in the voluntary standard either improve the safety of high chairs or are safety neutral. In particular, ASTM F404–20 includes stability testing for reclined seat high chair products, developed in conjunction with CPSC staff.

The ASTM standard for high chairs includes performance requirements, test methods, and requirements for warning labels and instructional literature, to address hazards to infants and children associated with high chairs. This latest revision includes substantive changes, clarification to existing requirements, and editorial revisions that do not alter substantive requirements in the standard or affect safety. ASTM F404–20 contains substantive revisions from the current mandatory standard to distinguish performance requirements and test methods for two types of high chairs-upright seat high chairs and reclined seat high chairs. Primarily, the revised standard provides new performance requirements and associated test methods to test the stability of reclined seat high chairs.

For reclined seat high chairs, the ASTM subcommittee concluded that the stability testing developed for upright seat high chairs was inadequate, because the child’s counter-balance load is different, based on the intended weight range for reclined seat products. The 40-lb counter-balance weight would not effectively test the stability of reclined seat high chair products that are intended for lower-weight infants from birth (approximately 7 lb) to 20 lbs because a 40-lb counter-balance weight would make the reclined seat high chair product more stable than a 20-lb counter-balance weight. Further, the seat recline affects both the seat back and the seat bottom, causing the center of mass to be distributed differently than with an upright seat high chair. Weight distribution in reclined seat high chairs is more toward the seat back, whereas weight distribution in upright seat high chairs is more toward the seat bottom. Finally, due to the inclined seat design, test engineers had difficulty placing the 40 lb test weight in the seat to conduct stability testing.

Because of these design differences, ASTM, in collaboration with CPSC staff, developed a new testing methodology for reclined seat high chairs. They decided that the stability testing from the bassinet standard was most appropriate to test reclined seat high chairs. Instead of using a weight to simulate a child as a counter-balance in the seat, the new stability test uses a CAMI Newborn Dummy (7.5 lb). The anthropomorphic CAMI Newborn Dummy better fits the reclined seat, and the weight is better distributed within the high chair than with the barbell type weights used to test upright seat high chairs. Also, the use of the dummy provides more consistent test results.

Further, given that reclined seat high chairs are designed for infants in a lower age/weight range, who have limited moving capabilities, these infants are unlikely to create instability issues by themselves. Instead, instability for reclined seat high chair products are likely come from external sources, such as caregivers bumping into the chair and/or siblings pulling on the chair. Thus, for reclined seat products, the new stability test method in section 7.7.3 of ASTM F404–20 adopts stability requirements and testing from the bassinet standard, ASTM F2194–16e1, which was designed to test siblings interacting with the product. The CAMI Newborn Dummy is used as the counter-balance weight in the reclined seat high chair to simulate external forces that may tip the product over. This test employs a dual application of horizontal and vertical forces to simulate application of an angled load; the combination of the weights and forces in the testing simulate the mean strength of a 2-year-old pulling on the product.

The Commission concluded that new stability performance and test methods for reclined seat high chairs improve the safety of high chairs, because the tests under the revised standard are designed to address tipover hazards associated with infant users moving within the product and external forces like a sibling or caregiver interacting with the product. Additionally, use of the 7.5-lb CAMI Newborn Dummy provides a more stringent test for the tipover hazard because a lighter weight provides less of a counter-balance in assessing external forces acting on the reclined seat high chair products than the heavier 40-lb weight used to test upright seat high chairs.

Static load test methods-neutral to safety. The revised standard also includes static load test methods for the high chair seat, the step/footrest, and the high chair tray. CPSC states that these changes are neutral to the safety of high chairs. ASTM F404–18 required that all high chairs meet a dynamic high chair test, which is intended to address the collapse of a high chair when an older child (up to 3 years old) bounces up and down in the chair. Section 7.10.1 of ASTM F404–20 adds an exemption from this test for high chairs intended for use with children weighing 20 lbs or less. ASTM’s rationale for the exemption is that lower weight users of the product will not be mobile enough to bounce significantly in the high chair, or bear enough weight to cause the high chair to collapse. CPSC determined this change also was neutral to the safety of high chairs.

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