'There was blood everywhere': The cots and prams failing safety tests

Gloria Hawke's son Cael had a fingertip severed by a stroller in 2013.
Gloria Hawke's son Cael had a fingertip severed by a stroller in 2013.  Photo: Dallas Kilponen

When Gloria Hawke bought a $500 Maclaren stroller for her son Cael in 2011, she thought she’d done the best thing for her soon-to-be-born child.

But, as the Maroubra family set up the pram for a trip to the beach one morning in 2013, their world turned upside down. Cael had reached over and caught his pinkie finger in the pram’s hinge and,  when it closed, the mechanism severed the top, down to the first joint.

"We were just in shock, there was blood everywhere," she said. After rushing to hospital, the 21-month-old had to be given Fentanyl for the pain while doctors worked out what to do. "They couldn't reconnect his finger, they didn't know whether or not his nail would ever regrow."

Gloria Hawke with son Cael. He's recovered well, but she says the family will never forget his ordeal.
Gloria Hawke with son Cael. He's recovered well, but she says the family will never forget his ordeal.  Photo: Supplied

Eventually, it did regrow. But it took months of painful treatment for Cael to recover.

Ms Hawke had no idea when she bought the stroller that it had been recalled in the United States, after 17 other children had fingers cut off in the folding hinges.

"When we bought it, it was one of the most expensive strollers that we could get. We got it because we thought it's a really good brand, and it's going to be safe and comfortable," she said.

Despite the US recall, the product was not taken off Australian shelves.

Instead, the ACCC posted a notice on its product recall site, Maclaren distributor CNP Brands ran an awareness campaign and free hinge covers were made available.

Ms Hawke said she was "incredibly surprised" that the pram wasn’t taken off the shelves, and she became angry when she found out it had been recalled elsewhere.


But according to consumer group Choice, Australian product safety standards are continually failing families by allowing dangerous cots, strollers, bassinets and other children’s products to be sold to unwitting parents.

Consistently failing safety tests

Choice has analysed its product testing from 2011 to now, and has released data today on the number of cots, strollers and portacots that failed its safety tests.

Disturbingly, more than half of the portable cots and strollers tested had "serious" failures that could potentially lead to injury or even death.

A Choice test co-ordinator with the All 4 Bubs Lunar cot, which is too dangerous for a real baby having failed multiple ...
A Choice test co-ordinator with the All 4 Bubs Lunar cot, which is too dangerous for a real baby having failed multiple tests.  Photo: Janie Barrett

Choice tested 60 portable cots from 2011 to 2018, and found 73 per cent of those (or 44) had serious failures that included the risk of suffocation, falls, instability (tipping over) or head/neck entrapment.

Non-portable cots (139 tested from 2012-2017) had a lower, but still significant rate of "serious" failures at 37 per cent (51 cots).

From 2012 to 2018, Choice tested 129 strollers and found 66 per cent, or 85, had serious failures that included the risk of strangulation, falls, head entrapment or instability (leading to stroller collapse or tips).

Many of these products remain on the shelves, despite Choice having informed manufacturers and retailers when their products fail safety tests.

In Choice's most recent portable cot test, 10 out of 12 failed components of the standard and, in Choice's view, pose a safety risk. Of these, only one – a Dymples Portacot sold by Big W – has been voluntarily recalled by the retailer.

New 'proactive' law needed

Choice's head of policy and campaigns, Sarah Agar, blames Australia's "reactive" consumer law. Instead of putting safety first, "our product safety system is largely reactive, with businesses taking action after products are found to be unsafe, usually after sale", she said.

"This approach is failing us all. When you buy a product, you should be able to trust that it’s safe and won’t harm you or your loved ones."

The consumer group is pushing for the federal government to introduce a straightforward new law, similar to laws currently in place in Britain and Canada, that would require businesses to ensure the product they sell are safe.

Ms Agar said it was too easy for businesses to exploit loopholes under the current checklist system of mandatory and voluntary standards.

"A general requirement for products to be safe would encourage manufacturers and suppliers to think more broadly about how safe their actual products are, rather than search for loopholes in prescriptive standards."

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, which has received Choice's testing reports and is now considering the results, "strongly supports" the introduction of a general safety provision into Australian Consumer Law.

"Many consumers are surprised to learn that it is not illegal to supply unsafe products in Australia, unlike [the situation] in the UK, EU, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore and Brazil," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.

Under the current regime, "unsafe goods are only identified when regulators test goods in the market, or unfortunately, after consumers have suffered injuries or deaths. A general safety provision would mean that suppliers are legally obliged to ensure goods are safe before they supply them, or risk significant penalties."

In August last year, state consumer affairs ministers supported the Commonwealth conducting a regulatory impact assessment of such a general safety provision under Australian Consumer Law. That assessment process is ongoing.

A new product safety law would also need to be "coupled with strong penalties for breach, to ensure that businesses have enough incentive to follow the law", Ms Agar said.

Ms Hawke said her son's experience shook her confidence in Australian safety standards and brands, which she had previously assumed were stringent.

"I think we in Australia assume that our standards are very high and that anything that would be sold to do with children and babies would be exceptionally safe."

The current system is often "too little, too late", she said.

"It's just sort of playing a bit of roulette, hoping someone will see the recall. And that maybe someone will do the right thing and take it off the shelf."