What are the risks surrounding nappy sacks?
Nappy sacks are disposable, often perfumed, plastic bags into which soiled nappies are placed after removal from babies and prior to disposal. They tend to be made of very thin coloured plastic.
Nappy sacks have recently been identified as causing suffocation and choking of babies under one-year-old. Authorities in the UK have become aware of at least 18 deaths associated with individual nappy sacks.
The typical scenario associated with the deaths is that the nappy sacks are stored within the baby’s reach, close to the baby’s cot, including under the mattress. This method of storage is often for convenience. In some of the cases, the nappy sacks had been left near to or in the baby’s cot for ease of changing the baby’s nappy in the night. These loose nappy sacks are within easy reach of babies.
Informal feedback from parents, carers and professionals demonstrated that the risk to young babies is compounded by the fact that widespread usage of nappy sacks is a relatively recent phenomenon. Parents and carers are generally aware of the dangers posed by plastic bags, but do not make the same link to nappy sacks and so are less likely to take the same safety precautions.
Nappy sacks are usually sold in packets containing 100-200 sacks, costing approximately 0.01p per sack. In the packets the sacks are usually separate rather than on a roll, the typical method of supply of plastic bags used for food storage and garbage bin liners.
The risk of this potential hazard is increased by the lack of a mandatory suffocation warning advice on the packaging.
Babies are at particular risk of suffocation and choking from plastic sheets and bags for a number of reasons:
They cannot understand the risks associated with their actions
They seek to explore the world around them by, among other actions, putting articles in their mouth to experience taste and texture
They do not have the manual dexterity to remove a thin plastic covering that is “adhering” to their face or is in their mouth
Parents are not aware of the risks associated with nappy sacks.
What does the law say about nappy sacks?
Asphyxiation is a common cause of death, especially for babies under-1. The hazard associated with plastic packaging has been recognised for many years. The need to minimise this risk associated with packaging is recognised in the Toy Safety Directive (2009/48/EC) (Annex II, clause I, 4(e))1.
The General Product Safety Regulation requires products to be accompanied by suitable warnings to enable the product to be used safely. British Retail Consortium (BRC) members recognise their duty of care to their customers, and their responsibility in selling products that are safe and legal.
RoSPA in partnership with the BRC has now developed new guidelines for retailers. The guidelines set out the measures that retailers can take to help reduce the risks associated with using nappy sacks products, which includes calling for the inclusion of warning labels on packaging to alert parents to their potentially-deadly dangers.
These guidelines cover all products sold as nappy sacks. They do not cover any other plastic bag, dog waste bags, sanitary disposal bags, swing bin liners etc. that may be used as a means of disposing of a nappy, but for which it is not their intended use.
Unscented may be less attractive to babies
Black bags may be less appealing than a coloured bag
Bags produced on a roll (not as individual sheets) are harder for babies to access
Individual sheets sold in rigid opaque/solid containers with click-to-open openings are inaccessible to babies and young children.
Front of Pack warning
Risk of suffocation. Always keep nappy sacks away from babies and young children.
Back of pack warnings
Should be clear and legible and at least the same size as the main text.
Risk of suffocation. Always keep nappy sacks away from babies and young children
Never place nappy sacks in or near a baby’s cot or pram
Be aware: nappy sacks are extremely light and flimsy and can easily be blown off a surface and come within the reach of a child
Loose bags are a danger! Never leave loose bags lying around – only remove nappy bags from packaging as needed or store removed bags in a secure container.
Advice for businesses selling nappy sacks
If you are currently a retailer of nappy sacks, you should ensure that your products are of a high quality, and comply with the guidelines (see above.) Additionally, you may want to provide safety advice to your customers by using the safety leaflets provided in the guidelines.
Advice for parents
Babies can suffocate on nappy sacks, making some simple changes can make a big difference to your child’s safety.
To avoid danger of suffocation and choking:
Always keep nappy sacks and other plastic bags and wrapping away from babies and young children
Place nappy sacks within babies’ reach
Place nappy sacks in a baby’s cot pram or buggy
“The packaging in which toys are contained for retail sale must not present a risk of strangulation or asphyxiation caused by airway obstruction external to the mouth and nose.”