On July 19, 2011, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a final rule determining that CPSC will consider certain children’s garments with drawstrings to present “substantial product hazards” under the Consumer Product Safety Act. The affected garments are children’s upper outerwear (e.g., jackets, sweatshirts) that do not meet the applicable ASTM F 1816-97 industry standard because the garments:
- are sized 2T to 12 or the equivalent, and have neck or hood drawstrings; or
- are sized 2T to 16 or the equivalent, and have waist or bottom drawstrings that (a) extend more than three inches out of the drawstring channel when the garment is expanded to its fullest width, (b) are not “bartacked” at the midpoint so the string cannot be pulled through its channel, or (c) have toggles or knots at the end.
CPSC has concluded that such drawstrings can catch or become entangled with objects, such as a car door or playground slide, posing dragging or strangulation hazards to children.
That part of the final rule is not news, as CPSC has long addressed drawstrings on children’s upper outerwear. In 1996, CPSC issued recommended drawstring guidelines, which were incorporated a year later into the ASTM industry standard (ASTM F 1816-97). In 2006, CPSC’s Office of Compliance announced that children’s upper outerwear not meeting the industry standard would be regarded as presenting a “substantial risk of injury to young children” and thus as reportable under section 15 of the Act. CPSC has since announced more than 100 drawstring recalls, and CPSC has penalized dozens of companies for allegedly failing timely to notify CPSC under section 15. For example, on July 11, 2011, CPSC announced that a major retailer agreed to pay a civil penalty of $750,000 for such alleged reporting violations.
What may come as a surprise is that CPSC has also chosen to view “ties” as “drawstrings,” even if they do not pass through a channel. As Chairman Inez Tenenbaum noted in her signing statement, the common industry understanding has been that ties that do not pass through a channel are outside the scope of the industry standard. That understanding is consistent with the language of the standard itself, which references a “channel” in the definitions of “bartack” (3.1.1) and “toggle” (3.1.7), and in the performance requirement that drawstrings at the waist not extend more than three inches “outside the drawstring channel” (4.2.1). However, CPSC states in the preamble to the final rule that the ASTM definition is not “limited to cords, ribbons, or tapes that pass through a channel” and “does not exclude ties.” Further, according to Chairman Tenenbaum’s statement, CPSC “long has understood that such ties are drawstrings [as] evidenced by our recall and other enforcement efforts,” and the Commission believes that “ties pose the same risks [as drawstrings] regardless of whether they pass through a channel.”
Thus, companies face recalls and late reporting penalties for children’s upper outerwear with drawstrings -- including ties that do not pass through a channel.