Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Injury Data Insufficient to Assess the Effect of the Changes to the Children's Sleepwear Safety Standard

HEHS-99-64: Published: Apr 1, 1999. Publicly Released: Apr 1, 1999.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the data available on burn injuries to children and the implications of these data for the effect of the recent amendments to the children's sleepwear standard, focusing on: (1) how many burn injuries involving children's sleepwear occurred annually before and after the amendments; and (2) what conclusions, if any, can be drawn from these data about the effect of the changes to the sleepwear standard on the risk of injury.

GAO noted that: (1) the exact number of burn injuries associated with children's sleepwear before and after the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) amended its standard is uncertain; (2) although CPSC collects some burn injury data from a sample of hospital emergency rooms, few sleepwear-related injuries are reported annually; (3) for example, over the period 1990-1998, CPSC's sample of about 100 hospital emergency rooms reported a total of only 13 burn injuries that involved children's sleepwear; (4) this included a maximum of four cases in any one year, and in some years, including 1998, no cases were reported at all; (5) consequently, although the overall risk of injury appears to be small, these data cannot produce precise national estimates, making it difficult or impossible to observe trends in the number of injuries over time; (6) even if more precise data were available, it would not be possible to draw firm conclusions from burn injury data about the effect of the changes to the standard without other equally crucial but unobtainable information; (7) assessing the effect of the sleepwear standard would be particularly difficult because multiple factors contribute to burn injuries, including the ignition source, the child's behavior, and the fabric and fit of the child's clothing; (8) furthermore, using injury information to compare the risks associated with different types of sleepwear (such as snug-fitting cotton versus flame-resistant polyester) would also require information on how many consumers actually use each type; (9) without such data, it would be difficult or impossible to distinguish the type of sleepwear associated with the most injuries from the type of sleepwear most commonly used; (10) however, this information was not gathered for the period before the changes in the standard, and it is not yet available for the period since the final changes to the standard were made; and (11) in the absence of these key data, and without baseline data for comparison, it is not possible to determine the effect of the sleepwear amendments on the risk of injury to children.

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