Liberals move to strengthen baby playpen safety regulations

A playpen stands empty in a nursery.
A playpen stands empty in a nursery. Orlin Wagner/AP Photo

The Liberal government is moving to enforce higher standards for baby playpens sold and used in Canada.

Health Canada says it received reports of 10 deaths, one serious injury, and 31 minor injuries associated with playpens and playpen accessories, such as change table and bassinet attachments, since the last major round of regulations was implemented more than two decades ago.

“When parents purchase a playpen, they should have confidence that it will provide a safe environment for their child,” Health Minister Jane Philpott said in a recent statement.

“The proposed changes will further strengthen safety requirements for these products in order to better protect infants and young children.”

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In a Health Canada policy document published this week, the department noted playpen designs and accessories have evolved over the years, and some of those changes have resulted in deaths and injuries.

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“Health Canada has identified safety hazards with certain playpen designs, including playpens with accessories,” the document reads.

“The hazards include strangulation in collapsed side rails, entrapment between accessories and the playpen, entrapment in openings in the textile sides of the playpen and asphyxia caused by angled surfaces of sleep accessories.”

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As a result, the government is proposing regulation changes to limit the space between playpen rails and accessories, and enforce stricter standards for the height of the playpen walls as well as for side and floor strength and latching and locking mechanisms.

Proposed regulations for playpens will bring the safety standards closer in line with those of cribs, cradles and bassinets sold in Canada.
Proposed regulations for playpens will bring the safety standards closer in line with those of cribs, cradles and bassinets sold in Canada. File / Getty Images

Health Canada is also proposing that playpen manufacturers be required to print bilingual warnings on their products.

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“There is the potential for serious injury or death as a result of improper use of a playpen or accessory top a playpen,” the departmental document reads.

Some proposed warnings include:

  • Do not use this playpen if you cannot exactly follow the instructions that come with it.
  • Do not use this playpen for a child who can climb out of it or who is taller than 90 cm.
  • Do not place any cord, strap or similar item in or near this playpen that could become wrapped around a child’s neck.
  • Do not leave a child unattended in this playpen.

The proposed regulations, once passed, will bring Canadian requirements in line with those in the U.S. and bring the safety standards of playpens closer in line with those of cribs, cradles and bassinets sold in Canada (the Cribs, Cradles and Bassinets Regulations were last updated in December 2016), according to Health Canada.

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Of the reported 10 deaths associated with playpens between 1990 and October 2015, one baby died after getting caught between the playpen rail and change table accessory, another died in a bassinet attachment with a sloped sleeping surface, two died while sleeping on change table attachments and one died after soft bedding from the parents’ bed fell into the playpen which was at the foot of the parents’ bed.

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The other five children died of strangulation – two on account of collapsed side rails, two when their clothing became caught on projections on the top rail of their playpens and the other after the baby pulled a strap into the playpen.

Reported minor injuries included bruises, cuts and small parts falling off the playpens finding their way into babies’ mouths.

In response to the deaths and injuries, Health Canada has over the years negotiated recalls with industry and issued bulletins about the safe use of playpens and warnings about strangulations hazards.

“Despite these outreach activities, the incidents and recalls highlight the need for regulatory changes,” Health Canada wrote.

Canadians have until June 6 to review and comment on the proposed regulations.