Bean bag furniture is one of the most comfortable types of furniture for people of all ages, from babies to seniors, but as with any product, it must meet the proper safety standards.
Bean bags have several benefits and therapeutic qualities, and they are recommended by leading doctors and scientists as a healthy alternative to traditional furniture. Since the mid-1990s, many people have been concerned about the safety of baby bean bags, but new safety features were mandated before the end of the decade that have made bean bags safe for children of all ages.
Bean Bag Safety
In the 1990s, low-quality bean bags were found to pose two safety hazards to small children and babies. These hazards have since been corrected by the manufacturers after several recalls and new regulations were passed. However, as with all items used by children, parents are ultimately responsible for following the safety guidelines.
Bean bags are comprised of a lining of natural or synthetic material and a filler. Most fillers are small beads made of PVC or polystyrene but may also be made of polyurethane or Styrofoam. Most of these beads are 3 mm to 9 mm in diameter, but some bean bags may use micro-beads that are only 1 mm in diameter.
The two safety risks of bean bags concerned babies and small children. Children liked to open the linings and play with or attempt to eat the beads. These actions could lead to choking on them or accidentally inhaling them, which could block airways. In some cases, children have climbed inside of bean bags and have been harmed in the process.
The second safety risk occurs when bean bags are not properly filled. Bean bags must always be full to prevent accidents. A study conducted in 1996 found that 35 deaths occurred with babies who were found lying face down on bean bag furniture that was not properly filled. However, the researchers concluded that these deaths could have occurred in most other types of bedding through the same mechanism.
Bean Bag Recalls and Safety Standards
From 1995 to 1996, several manufacturers of bean bags were forced to recall their products because of safety issues reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC is a federal regulatory agency that works to keep residents of the U.S. safe through the reduction and prevention of injuries that may be caused by products marketed to consumers.
The first step in the safety process is to issue a recall of anything found to be unsafe. Next, attempts are made to develop voluntary safety standards for manufacturers. If this does not work or seems unfeasible, regulations are issued and enforced that may include mandatory safety standards or complete bans on specific products.
In 1995, the CPSC issued a massive recall of 12 million bean bag chairs from ten leading manufacturers. Five other manufacturers then voluntary recalled 140,000 additional chairs. This prompted the CPSC to issue new safety standards regarding bean bags and bean bag furniture that were made effective in November 1996.
Today, bean bags must include several safety features designed to prevent children from gaining access to the beads. Refillable bean bags must now have locking safety zippers and dual stitching. This prevents children from opening the lining and releasing the beads. Also, bean bags must now include permanent warning labels, and the fabrics from which the linings are composed must pass durability tests to ensure that children cannot rip or tear them.
Parents are now warned about the dangers of cheaply made bean bags or bean bags that are not properly filled. In some instances of heavy use, the small beads may become compressed, which requires that the bags are refilled with beads, and most manufacturers offer bead refills to ensure their products remain safe.
Child Safety in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), accidents are the leading cause of death in children under the age of five, and the New York Department of Health states that choking is the fourth leading type of fatal accident to occur. However, choking hazards can be found everywhere and may include food, toys, clothing and other household items in addition to bedding, and nearly all of these accidents are preventable by following several guidelines:
• Do not leave children unattended.
• Enforce proper posture.
• Provide a good example for your children.
• Read the hazard labels on all products, and follow all recommendations.
• Educate babysitters and other caregivers about child safety.
Baby bean bags are deemed to be unsafe by the ACCC and all beanbags distributed throughout Australia must carry this warning:
“WARNING: Children can suffocate if bean bag filling is swallowed or inhaled. Do not let children climb inside this bean bag. A bean bag is not a safe sleeping surface for an infant under 12 months of age.”
Parents should ensure that the bean bags have locking zippers, strong linings, and double stitching, and they must remain full of beads at all times.