Children aged 3 and under should always be supervised while sitting in a high chair, said Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
The number of toddlers taken to hospital emergency rooms with high chair-related injuries jumped 22% between 2003 and 2010, according to a new study that raises questions about safety awareness concerning the chairs.
Each year around 9,400 children aged 3 years and under — an average of one every hour — suffer falls, cuts, pinches and other injuries from high chairs, researchers found in the study, which was published Monday in the journal Clinical Pediatrics. The study mined data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a database operated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The vast majority of injuries were falls, with 85% affecting the head and face. All but 2.4% of the injuries were deemed minor and did not require hospital admission.
Researchers aren’t sure why the number of high chair accidents jumped so sharply, lead study author Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told the Daily News.
While the database does not include many details of the circumstances of the events leading up to the ER visits, researchers found some patterns. In many cases, the chairs’ safety features appear not to have been used, allowing children to stand or slide around in the chairs, then fall or jump from them.
“It was not infrequent that we saw restraining straps were not used,” Smith said.
In other cases, faulty chairs may have been to blame. Smith noted that the study predates a 2008 law, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, that imposed stricter safety testing on a range of household items, including high chairs. The law went into effect in 2011, but many parents may still be using older chairs.
In recent years there have been millions of high chairs recalled because they didn’t meet current standards, Smith said.
He called the return rate on such recalls “dismal,” adding that only 10% to 20% of recalled items are ever returned.
“We know that means many chairs that don’t meet current standards are still being used,” he said. (You can search for government recall information on recalls.gov.)
Another factor that could have contributed to the increase: Parents today are increasingly aware of concussion and head injury, and may be quicker to rush their children to the hospital to get checked out after a fall.
Still, Smith said, the data suggests not enough parents are practicing proper safety precautions, making mistakes like not supervising children while in the chairs, not using the built-in restraint straps to secure children, or assuming the high chair tray alone will keep a child in place.
“Not meaning to be an alarmist, but these injuries aren’t few; they’re common and they can be serious,” Smith said. “You need to use the restraints every time. That is really the take-home message.”