Free-Range Kids

Fisher Price's Rock 'n Play Recall: A Reminder That Perfect Safety Is Impossible

The toy company allegedly failed to test its miracle cure for cranky baby syndrome.


The recent recall of the Fisher Price Rock 'n Play—a strange name for a device that was designed for babies to lie 'n nap—has parents outraged, even when they are on opposite sides of the issue.

Many are angry that the device, a sort of baby hammock on a 30-degree angle, was on the market for 10 years before the recall, which occurred after 30 infants had died. Others are furious that a device that they rely on as a godsend—because it gets their babies to sleep when seemingly nothing else works—is being recalled at all. That group says that they trust the Rock 'n Play, that they've used it sometimes for several kids, and that they continue to feel it is safe when used properly. A typical Facebook comment on the recall reads:

I thought this was the best product ever when my son was born in 2010. I think this is when they first came out and the only color offered was yellow. My son slept so well and I liked that I could have him close to my bed. I raved about this to my newly pregnant friends and gave it five stars online. This is just tragic. Seems like nothing is truly safe.

That, by the way, is true. Nothing is perfectly safe. But the question is this: Should it have been safer?

An exhaustive report in The Washington Post found that Fisher Price never conducted the most basic kind of testing you would expect before bringing a baby sleeper to market, relying instead on a thumbs up from the single Texas doctor it consulted—a doctor so sub-par he later lost his license.

That is appalling. Fisher Price cranked out 4.7 million of these without the pre-market rigor you'd expect for a rattle.

On the other hand, it has become almost impossible to condone any product or practice, no matter how widespread and normally safe, once it is associated with even a single child tragedy.

This is why some day care centers have been ordered to get rid of their tree swings, and why the Richland and Spokane school districts in Washington got rid of their playground swings. This is why some kids in Canada can't wear their hall passes on lanyards anymore. This is why so many schools don't allow kids to walk home alone from the bus stop. One horrible tragedy, or even the fear of one, caused someone in authority to reclassify these statistically safe items and activities as untenably dangerous.

We do something similar when we pass laws named for a child after a heart-wrenching death. We are dearly hoping we can prevent another loss, even though it is often the case that the tragedy itself was so rare and aberrant that the chances of it happening again are basically the same, with or without the law.

But this legislative reflex is not the same as rightfully expecting products on the market to be tested and safe.

The problem is, it is really hard to untangle facts from fear, which you can see by the range of reactions to the Washington Post piece. Some noted that there are thousands of unexpected and poorly understood infant deaths each year, including "900 deaths due to accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed" in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In contrast, the Rock n' Play is believed to have been responsible for 30 deaths over a decade.

It is so hard to hear about the death of any child, ever, in these safest times in human history. Thus we automatically suspect negligence when the worst comes to pass. Sometimes our suspicions are correct. Sometimes they are just the result of our inability to fathom the capriciousness of fate, or God's mysterious ways, depending on your outlook.

Life will continue to stun us with sorrow. That's why it is crucial to try to make things safe yet folly to assume that perfect safety at all times, in all places, in all situations, is attainable if only we pay enough attention. How any company is brave enough to bring a baby product to the market I just don't know.

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  1. When a kid gets badly injured or killed an emotion laden lawsuit inevitably follows, and it costs much in legal fees and damages to settle it. Removing potentially dangerous equipment isn’t a matter of over-protectiveness, it’s precaution against financial ruin.

    Take away that risk and schools and such will be more likely to leave in place things like monkey bars and swing sets. It’s easy for somebody who will never be held liable for huge damages to discount the caution of those who are so held every day.

  2. So let’s see – – –
    4.7 million units.
    30 deaths.
    My calculator cannot do math for so small a number.
    What should be happening is no one is allowed to put a child into an automobile until the child is at least 18 years old.
    Make mommy stay at home and protect the child from everything until 18. Then both the mommy and the ‘kid’ can go out in public.
    Much safer.

    1. > My calculator cannot do math for so small a number.

      Good news! My calculator can! The answer is 6.38e-6. Or in layman’s terms, the odds are around one in one hundred and fifty six thousand. Which is nothing to sneeze at. It’s not a high number, but I think that I myself my forego that swing in favor of the old fashioned method of holding and rocking the baby.

      1. In other words,
        – safer than bicycling (1 in 140,845)
        – safer than dance parties (1 in 100,000)
        – safer than football (1 in 50,000)
        – safer than canoeing (1 in 10,000)
        – way safer than driving in a car (1 in 6700)
        – lower than your risk of dying in a “cataclysmic storm” (1 in 66,335)
        – lower even than your risk of dying by legal execution (1 in 119,012)

        Also safer than skydiving – which most people would expect but I suspect most would be surprised where it sits on the list – 1 in 101,083.

        By the way, I’m going to disagree with Brandybuck. At least in my extended family, the “old-fashioned” method of getting the kids to sleep was to buckle them into the child seat and drive around until they settle. Not only is driving statistically much more dangerous, it is usually being done by a sleep-deprived parent. As a matter of realistic risk management, taking these off the market makes children less safe, not more.

        1. I deal with trauma injuries.

          Over the past 30 years or so. It is astonishing wonderful how much better it is. Better cars, airbags, belts, child carriers. Better EMS and ability to deal with it. The public education worked as well. People really responded to this.

          One of the greatest accomplishments of a generation.

  3. Not to be a nay-sayer, as I adore Lenore. But my workplace does not allow employee cards on non-breakaway lanyards. And while most card holders I get as conference swag are breakaway style, about a quarter are not.

    So I bitched to the operations manager about this, and he told me the story of the employee who had to go to the emergency room after the lanyard got caught on a doorknob. Sigh.

    In other news, I know a guy who wears a bowtie because he once got is regular tie stuck in a paper shredder. Yikes!

    1. Insane idea number 32, 948 – do not force humans to wear chains about their necks, regardless of the material of the chain.
      And in this day and age, who needs paper shredders? Print nothing, shred nothing.

    2. Men should never wear ties.

      Except when posing for wedding photos.

      Then it is required for some reason dictated by women who are in charge when it comes to weddings.



    swimming pools

    1. Teaching your child how to swim is not an option. It is one of those things you must do.

      Riding a bike is obviously one of those things every parent should teach, along with other things like paddling a canoe, education, driving a car and basic firearms when they are mature enough for those things.

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