The government is sending relief for senior citizens and other adults who struggle with the caps that keep medicines and other hazardous substances out of the hands of children.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission voted unanimously Thursday to require that future child-resistant caps be made so that adults will have an easier time getting them off.
The change will be the first in child-resistant packaging in more than 20 years, said Ann Brown, chairwoman of the three-member commission. Regulators say the new caps will actually be safer for children because many people who had trouble with the caps simply left them off--even with kids in the house.
Brown said studies show that existing packages pose problems for older adults, many of whom don't have the strength to open them. Most of the caps must be pushed down and then turned, or arrows on the cap and bottle must be aligned in order to remove the cap.
Because the new caps will be easier to remove, adults should have less reason to leave them off or transfer the contents to less-secure packaging, Brown said.
Officials also cited as reasons for the change increases in the number of grandparents caring for children and statistics showing that a fifth of all child poisonings occur at a grandparent's house.
The new caps will rely less on strength and more on cognitive skills. Consumers should begin seeing the modified caps on products in about a year, Brown said.
A group of manufacturers, packagers and drug companies opposed the change, saying it will make it easier for curious children to get into the packages.
Under the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970, the Consumer Product Safety Commission tests child-resistant containers using two groups of subjects: one of children under age 5 and another of adults age 18 to 45. Now the adult group will be made up of people age 50 to 70.
The commission had intended to use 60-to-75-year-olds but agreed to the lower ages as a concession to industry.
CPSC officials say packages that pass both groups will be easier for seniors to open while still protecting children.
U.S. deaths of young children from poisoning have declined from about 450 a year to about 50 since the law was enacted, Brown said.
But hospital emergency rooms still treat about 140,000 youngsters for poison-related accidents annually, she noted.