Keeping babies safe with Jack Walsh

Consumer Reports News: April 30, 2007 05:17 AM

Jack Walsh would love to be playing golf in Ireland. He could be, but he’s not. The 67-year-old former executive director of the now defunct Danny Foundation continues to be an active advocate for safer juvenile products. “I’m supposed to be retired, but all it means is I’m not getting paid," he says.

These days, Walsh is spending a lot of his time on a new Web site, Keeping Babies Safe, whose mission is to protect infants and educate the public about unsafe sleep environments and dangerous juvenile products. The Web site is still a work in progress but already has a lot of useful information on recalled cribs, strollers, and other baby products as well as valuable tips on their safe use. Walsh is also the chairman of the changing-table subcommittee of ASTM, a nonprofit voluntary standard-setting organization. And he's a former president and current board member of the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization, a global group of health and safety professionals who exchange ideas, share information, and take leadership roles in addressing health and safety concerns affecting all consumers. 

Walsh says he got involved with juvenile safety issues unintentionally, applying “on a lark” for a job with The Danny Foundation, a national nonprofit group established by the parents of Danny Lineweaver. At 23 months of age, Danny got caught on a decorative knob on the corner post of his crib as he was trying to climb out and hanged himself. Though his mother was able to perform CPR when she found him, Danny lived in a comatose state for nine years before he died in 1993. 

When the Lineweavers discovered that Danny was the 21st child to have suffered that kind of crib accident in the 13 years that the federal government had been keeping statistics, they formed the foundation, whose mission was to educate parents about the dangers of cribs and to press the industry and the government to make safer baby products. 

With Walsh at its helm, the foundation successfully pushed for tighter safety standards, including one that bars finials or corner post extensions, the cause of Danny’s death, on cribs. When Walsh, a former priest, joined the foundation in 1987, he “knew absolutely nothing about product safety or juvenile product safety.” He recently recalled attending standard-setting meetings at ASTM, where almost all attendees were engineers. Usually, only one other consumer advocate attended. “Talk about culture shock,” Walsh said. “It was really old school people who believed that everything that went wrong was the parents' fault. That was their mantra.” 

Walsh expected to stay at the Danny Foundation for five years or so, then move on. Instead, he stayed almost two decades. (The Danny Foundation was dissolved in 2005, after its board determined that it had accomplished its goals as an advocate for crib safety.) Over the years, Walsh became even more firmly entrenched in the juvenile safety world. 

He says there is still much work to be done, especially in ensuring that parents know about safe sleeping environments. “We’re finding out today that more children are dying outside of baby cribs than inside; getting caught in adult beds, etc.” And much like the Danny Foundation did years ago with finials on cribs, Walsh and others are working to get rid of vertical protrusions on the upper parts of bunk beds, including ladders that extend above the bed. “A significant number of young people are dying because their bathrobe or backpack gets caught and they are hung there.”

Walsh encourages consumers to take an active role in the standard-setting process. “It’s not easy,” he admits, saying it can be a time-consuming and lengthy process to get changes made. But, he says, “we can’t allow manufacturers and the associations of manufacturers to get their way all the time.”

For his continued advocacy efforts on behalf of baby and child safety, Walsh is certainly worthy of being a Consumer Reports Safety Crusader.

Do you know of a Safety Crusader? Please let us know.

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