Do the cribs in your church nursery need to be replaced?

Richard Hammar calls attention to new regulations of the Consumer Product Safety Commission affecting cribs in the September/October 2011 edition of Church Law & Tax Report.  The newsletter is not available online so I will not quote it. Since government statistics & regulations aren’t copyrightable, I will summarize a few key pieces of information from the CPSC.

By the way if you are in leadership of a church, I heartily recommend you subscribe to Church Law & Tax Report.  At $69 for six issues a year, it is the most reasonable, pertinent legal information you’ll find.  E-mail contact:  CLTReditor@christianitytoday.com.  On the net at www.ChurchLawandTaxReport.com.

Why are cribs a problem getting government attention?  Here’s the data CPSC collected in a 2 ½ year time span:

  • 3,520 incidents during that time, or 1,408 per year
  • Half of those instances required hospitalization. That’s about 700 hospitalizations per year.  Not just ER trips, but admissions to a hospital.
  • 147 fatalities.  That is 59 deaths per year.  About five babies die every month because of problems with their cribs.

In one sentence, drop side cribs are structurally less safe.  Thus, new regulations.

All cribs sold after June 28, 2011 have to meet more stringent safety regulations.  That’s a good idea.  No problem there.

Except that you notice that word sold?  That word includes placing the crib into the ‘stream of commerce’.  That includes selling cribs at a thrift store or rummage sale, giving it to a thrift store so they can sell it, or selling it at a nominal amount to needy parents.  That makes it really hard to get rid of a crib made before the cut off.  Doing any of the things a local church would likely do to get rid of an old crib would subject the church to the safety regulations and serious penalties for violations.

After December 28, 2012, all cribs in use at a childcare facility must meet the new safety requirements.  Mr. Hammar indicates the CPSC has given guidance that CPSC probably will not consider a church’s nursery to be a childcare facility.

Does that mean your church is off the hook?  Legally, perhaps you might not have to comply with the regs for the nursery. On the other hand, let’s look at the moral and ethical dimension.

The new standard of care for a paid childcare facility is to have cribs that meet a higher safety standard.  If that is now the standard of care when babies are in your custody for pay, does that not suggest that from a moral and ethical level that is also the standard of care that should be provided when you’re entrusted with these little lambs during a worship service?

Even if you avoid legal liability in the event of a disaster arising because of a crib that is now defined as unsafe, can you begin to imagine the moral burden of not preventing severe injury or death?  What message would that send to all your congregants and the entire community that you didn’t care enough about babies to spend a few bucks to replace all the cribs?

It is my personal opinion and nothing more, but I think it is going to be very difficult to defend a decision to put babies at risk to save a few hundred dollars.  Thirty seconds spent at Amazon shows 6 different cribs priced from $119 to $199.97 on just the first page of results.

That same moral and ethical calculus applies to the issue of how to dispose of your current cribs. I’m not sure I see any moral option other than breaking them into pieces and putting them into the trash so they cannot be used by anyone else.

Where does that leave churches, whether or not you are paid for childcare? Seems to me we are obligated to get new, safer cribs and destroy the old ones.  Probably should do that earlier than the 12-28-12 deadline.

I haven’t done any cost/benefit calculations in this case to analyze the trade-off.  I’m an accountant so you know that is one of the first ideas that pops into my head.  Then I looked at the CPSC stats again.  I think that we are a rich enough country that we can all afford to replace our baby cribs to avoid 700 hospitalizations and 60 deaths per year nationwide. I think that’s a reasonable trade-off.

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