July 29, 2019

Warner & Kaine Urge Aggressive Action to Protect Beachgoers from Dangers of Flying Beach Umbrellas

~ Thousands injured by windborne beach umbrellas; woman killed in Virginia Beach in 2016 ~

 WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) are urging the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to launch a public safety campaign to educate the public about the dangers of beach umbrellas. The popular beach accessories can quickly become hazards when propelled by wind through the air, as has happened on several occasions in recent years, as in 2016, when Lottie Michelle Belk was struck in the torso and killed while vacationing in Virginia Beach with her family. Last month, a toddler was nearly impaled by a flying beach umbrella in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Today’s letter to Acting CPSC Chairwoman Ann Marie Buerkle is a follow-up to one the Senators sent in May along with Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-NJ) regarding the documented safety risks posed by beach umbrellas. In a June response, the CPSC noted that an estimated 2,800 beach umbrella-related injuries were treated in emergency departments nationwide from 2010 to 2018. Despite that, the CPSC also noted that it currently does not regulate the safety of beach umbrellas and is unaware of any voluntary standards specifically for beach umbrellas. Today, the four lawmakers urged the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) to take more aggressive action to protect beachgoers from the dangers of wind-swept beach umbrellas that can cause serious injury or even death. 

“As Americans flock to the beach this summer season, we believe it is imperative that the CPSC ensure that a day at the beach isn’t turned into a day at the emergency room,” the Senators wrote.  

The lawmakers mentioned other notable CPSC public education campaigns that have proven successful in changing people’s behavior and encouraging greater precaution. Specifically, they pointed to the 2010 “Safe Sleep Campaign” to educate parents and caregivers about how best to make nurseries safe; the 2015 “Anchor It!” campaign to warn of the dangers of furniture tip-overs; the annual July 4th fireworks safety campaign; and a 2017 alert to the public of fidget spinner choking hazards.  

The Senators also pressed CPSC on whether it has considered the efficacy of a weighted system or other safety measures that could be taken to reduce the risk of umbrellas becoming airborne and endangering beach-goers.                                                                   

Full text of the letter is below and a copy can be found here.

 

July 29, 2019

 

Ann Marie Buerkle

Acting Chair, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

4330 East West Highway

Bethesda, MD 20814

 

Dear Chairman Buerkle,

We write in the wake of your June 7, 2019 response to our May 2, 2019 letter regarding the documented safety risks posed by beach umbrellas. Your letter stated that, over the nine-year period from 2010-2018, an estimated 2,800 people sought treatment in emergency rooms for injuries related to beach umbrellas. A majority of those injuries were caused by a wind-blown beach umbrella. As we noted in our letter, unsafe beach umbrellas have even proved fatal to our constituents. 

As Americans flock to the beach this summer season, we believe it is imperative that the CPSC ensure that a day at the beach isn’t turned into a day at the emergency room. To that end, we write to specifically ask that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launch a public safety campaign to educate the public about the dangers of beach umbrellas. In addition, we write with additional follow-up questions regarding whether the Commission considered the efficacy of certain design or technical changes to beach umbrellas.

As your letter acknowledges, there is currently no CPSC-led public education campaign on the dangers of beach umbrellas. Yet, a July 6, 2019 tweet and Instagram post from the CPSC’s social media accounts remind consumers to properly stake their beach umbrellas.  We were pleased to see the CPSC take the issue of beach umbrella safety seriously. Notably, your June 7 letter states: “CPSC technical staff believes that an information sheet on the potential hazards could be developed.” We agree, and formally request that the CPSC develop safety and educational resources for the public. As you know, the CPSC has a history of such public safety campaigns.

In 2010, the CPSC implemented the “Safe Sleep Campaign” in part to “educate parents and caregivers about the most effective ways to make a nursey safe.”  In 2015, the CPSC launched “Anchor It!”, a national public safety campaign to educate the public about the dangers of furniture tip-overs.  In addition, every July 4th the CPSC reminds the public of the dangers of fireworks.  In August 2017, the CPSC went so far as to warn the public of the dangers of fidget spinners, stating that the popular toys pose a choking hazard.  Surely, the dangers of a beach umbrella turned flying spear – and the large number, and often gruesome nature, of these incidents – warrant the attention of the Commission. 

Your June 7 letter stated that “[t]echnical staff does not believe a safety standard would have a substantial effect on injuries from beach umbrellas incidents.” The letter states that the CPSC considered requiring a performance standard, requiring umbrellas to “contain venting”, the development of a staking requirement, and the development of a warning label system. Your letter does not however indicate whether the CPSC considered the efficacy of a weighted system, or any other alternative system options. To that end, we request responses to the following questions:

1.      Has the CPSC considered whether a weighted system or another alternative, could best mitigate the risk of a wind-blown beach umbrella?

2.      What information would factor into a decision as to whether the CPSC would recommend a weighted system or an additional or alternative safety feature for beach umbrellas? 

3.      Is the CPSC aware of any instance where an umbrella secured with a weighted system caused an injury?

We appreciate CPSC’s willingness to consider this issue and look forward hearing back from you by August 30, 2019.  Should you have further questions please contact Shelby Boxenbaum in Senator Menendez’s office at 202-224-4744.  

 

Sincerely,

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