Lawmakers want safety tests on beach umbrellas after deadly Va. Beach accident

Ocracoke Day Use Area is a popular Ocracoke Island destination because of its beautiful beach. Lifeguards patrol the beach between Memorial Day and Labor Day. [NPS photo]

Four U.S. senators are calling for product safety regulators to include beach umbrellas in their testing protocols as they work to develop new safety standards.

Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine along with New Jersey Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker issued a news release about their efforts ahead of the Labor Day holiday.

The push to protect beachgoers follows multiple accidents involving wind-swept beach umbrellas, including in 2016, when Lottie Michelle Belk of Chester was struck in the torso and killed while vacationing in Virginia Beach with her family.

Warner and Kaine have previously pushed for increased safety measures in a 2019 letter to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. In addition, the senators have called for a public safety campaign to educate the public about the dangers of beach umbrellas.

“Given the grave danger posed by beach umbrellas we feel it is imperative that ASTM include beach umbrellas in any new test methods,” the senators wrote to ASTM International Subcommittee Chair Ben Favret. “Summer is in full swing, and as millions of newly vaccinated Americans emerge from their homes to spend time at the shore, we must do all we can to ensure the safety of beach umbrellas.”

ASTM International — a nonprofit that often partners with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to develop technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services — last year began testing the safety and durability of market umbrellas in various wind conditions.

“Unfortunately it has continued to exclude beach umbrellas from this testing regimen, instead limiting it to patio and weighted-base umbrellas,” lawmakers said in a news release.

Assessing the risks associated with using certain products under specific conditions is a critical step towards developing new product safety standards, recommendations, and best practices to mitigate the risk.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 2,800 people sought treatment at emergency rooms for beach umbrella-related injuries from 2010-2018.

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Kari Pugh is digital director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, 94.5 WCMS and News Talk 92.3 WZPR. Reach her at kpugh@jammediallc.com