Calls for mandatory baby mattress standards
CHOICE has conducted safety tests of Australia's leading cot mattresses and reported that three popular brands fail
Three well-known brand name cot mattresses have failed a safety check designed to reduce the risk of infant suffocation, prompting calls from consumer group CHOICE to make the voluntary "firmness test" mandatory.
In the CHOICE safety check of 12 cot mattresses, three products from Childcare, Sealy and Love 'n' Care failed the firmness test designed to prevent sudden and unexpected death in infancy.
The Sleep surfaces – Test for firmness was introduced in 2013 by Standards Australia and Standards New Zealand but, unlike other cot safety requirements concerning height and mattress gaps, it is not mandatory.
"It is gravely concerning that three of the biggest brands in the cot mattress market have failed a safety test that has been in place for three years," says CHOICE spokesman Tom Godfrey.
"With the mandatory Australian Standard for cots set to be reviewed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission this year, it's time to put our kids' safety first and mandate the 'firmness test'."
The standard test method for firmness uses a calibrated apparatus in a lab environment, however there are informal DIY methods for parents to test mattresses themselves at home.
Many parents, like first-time Central Coast mum Erin Phillips, are unaware of the voluntary firmness test and often fail to get good advice in retail stores.
"I had done a lot of research on what sort of cot I wanted, and I did a little on the mattress but there just wasn't much out there, even at the store," she said, adding that she was surprised current standards were not mandatory.
"Car seats have to pass a regulation before they can even be sold, I would assume a mattress would be exactly the same."
In their product safety test, CHOICE failed three products on the firmness test:
1. Love N Care Organic Aloe Vera Latex Mattress ($150), commended for being "double-sided," but lost points for having "insufficient firmness on the standard test." Love N Care CEO Terry Elchek said the company had conducted its own safety checks and while it did not agree with the CHOICE assessment, it "took it very seriously," and sent the product back to the factory for additional testing. Love N Care said it had long called for mandatory regulations to create consistency.
2. Childcare Inner Spring Breathable Mattress ($90), commended for being "double-sided," but lost points for having "insufficient firmness on the standard test." Third-party lab results provided by the manufacturer to CHOICE showed the mattress had passed the standard, but the brand committed to investing in a more defined apparatus in future.
3. Sealy Baby Cot Mattress Dreamy ($250), lost points for having "insufficient firmness on the standard test". Sealy provided additional lab results showing the mattress had passed the standard in additional testing, but said it would "immediately review its cot mattress specifications to address any potential for variation and non-compliance with the standard".
In 2014 there were 113 deaths of infants under one the age of one, whose cause was identified as ill-defined and unknown, according to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Thirty-eight of those deaths were confirmed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, a number still considered too high by not-for-profit organisation SIDS and Kids.
"If manufacturers are making soft surfaces and bedding...and retailers are selling it, then we are putting infants at risk, absolutely," said Jill Green, SIDS and Kids national manager of health promotion and bereavement services.
Firm, clean, well-fitting and flat are the major criteria SIDS and Kids asks parents to tick-off when fitting mattresses to cots, particularly when using second-hand cots.
"If parents are using a second-hand cot they need to ensure it meets the post-2005 mandatory standard and we suggest they purchase a new mattress."
Ms Green joined CHOICE in the call for a mandatory standard, arguing that the duty of care needed to be put back on manufacturers and retailers who are selling "soft and puffy bedding".
"The problem with a voluntary standard is that [it allows] parents to place infant comfort over safety. Soft bedding makes parents think the baby will be more comfortable, but they are actually heightening the risk of sudden unexpected infant death."
An ACCC spokesperson said a review of the standard was currently underway, adding that "stakeholder experience from use in the field will be valuable in determining if assists in identifying problem mattresses and whether it should become a mandatory requirement".