Heaven in a bucket?

In the course of salting and scraping the sidewalk, I have been throwing road salt from a bucket. No big deal there. Just a plain five gallon bucket. But as Veeshir says, this blog is dedicated to overthinking things, and on the way up the stairs earlier I happened to notice something on the bucket that I had never seen before.

A warning, and I took a photograph of it:



Our government discusses it here:

A Hidden Hazard In The Home

Large buckets and young children can be a deadly combination. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has received reports of over 275 young children who have drowned in buckets since 1984. Over 30 other children have been hospitalized. Almost all of the containers were 5-gallon buckets containing liquids. Most were used for mopping floors or other household chores. Many were less than half full.

It strikes me as extremely unlikely for a child to drown in a bucket. For starters, a bucket would most likely fall over if a child did fall into it, thereby freeing the struggling child. As to infants, it is hard to imagine any parent letting an infant "fall" into a bucket.

What could possibly be going on here?

I'm skeptical over how big of a threat buckets actually are, and I am not alone. (I don't deny that a few children a year drown in buckets, but like commenters here, I suspect that they had help.) 

In any event, there are hundreds of millions of bucket-using Americans, who are needlessly subjected to a very goofy, very maudlin, guilt-tripping warning.

Why? Because some trial lawyers said so? Who elected them?

MORE: If you liked the bucket label, you'll love this one!



Shouldn't there be one on the dashboard of every vehicle?

Think of the lives we could save!

posted by Eric on 12.14.10 at 11:38 PM


We were sitting around the firepit at a neighbor's cabin some years back, watching the kids run around and play and drinking cool beverages and shooting the breeze.

SmallChild (who had just started walking a few weeks earlier) walked up to the five-gallon pickle bucket in which my son was keeping his captured frogs, with about a foot of water so they could swim but not jump. SmallChild heard the frogs splashing around and was entranced.

He leaned way in, trying to reach the frogs, and then he fell in head first.

It was the funniest thing we'd all seen in ages, for about ten seconds. That's how long it took for me to realize that his legs were kicking a mile a minute, and his arms were splashing, but he wasn't crying or screaming or yelling or talking or . . . anything.

I jumped up and hauled him out, and he was already a bit blue and choking. He would have drowned very quickly had we not noticed. The bucket held him upright but upside down very efficiently - he really had no chance to tip it over. He couldn't grab anything to pull himself out, and he couldn't cry and scream and attract attention.

Scary as heck. My bro-in-law, a cop, told me that buckets killed kids much more often than you might suspect.

bobby b   ·  December 15, 2010 5:11 AM

Sorry to burst your bubble but (there is always a but isn't there) I spent 28 of 37 years investigating crimes involving children, including deaths. The bucket death of toddlers is not that uncommon. Scrub buckets in the corner of the kitchen, decades ago buckets used for diapers: Mom turns away for one minute or answers the front door, the kid is curious, and can crawl and climb like a hungry mouse and plop, disaster and tears.

Alan Anderson   ·  December 15, 2010 9:41 AM

It strikes me that in most cases (except maybe in the case of an infant falling in, and how would that happen?) the bucket would tip over from the struggle to escape, as it would be top heavy. Which means an ordinary toilet would be theoretically more dangerous.

So does that mean toilets should have warning labels too?

Why not? People are already buying toilet locks!


...when planning your defense for keeping baby safe from possible drowning in the toilet, keep in mind three important things. Use the babyproofing barriers such as toilet and door locks at all times. Supervise your child whenever he or she is in the bathroom for any reason. Do not leave them alone for even a second. Last, learn CPR and basic emergency care so that if the worst does happen, you are prepared and can do something about it while you wait for emergency personnel to arrive. Nothing can make life risk free, but you can do things to decrease the chance that your child will become a toilet drowning statistic.

I am sure that children have drowned in buckets, toilets, bathtubs, laundry sinks, rain barrels, and probably aquariums, but how many have ever been saved by a warning label? Would a warning on the pickle barrel you described have accomplished anything? No; the adults simply did what any responsible adult would do.

I think that a parent negligent enough to let his kid drown is probably not going to be reading warning labels, which are only there because federal regulators adopted an "emergency labeling standard for 5-gallon plastic bucket":


Reading the official report, in the vast majority of cases, no one was there to supervise the child:


Incident scenarios usually involved an unwitnessed event when a child leaned over the bucket and fell in head first.
Of the 112 fatal incidents which CPSC staff investigated, the location of the caregiver could be determined in 93 of the cases. In 91 of these incidents, the caregiver was not in the same room with the
Of the 19 investigations of ``near-miss'' situations where the victims survived, the location of the caregiver was known in 16 of these cases. In 13 of these incidents, the caregiver was not in the
same room with the victim.(12)
Between January 1984 and January 1995, the Commission has received reports of 247 deaths and 32 non-fatal incidents associated with 5-gallon buckets. The estimated annual average number of deaths for the
years 1990, 1991, and 1992, is about 36, a slight reduction from the annual average estimate of about 40 for the years 1990 and 1991. The ages of the victims ranged from 7 to 24 months, with a median age of 11 months. Sixty percent of the victims were male. Height and weight of the victims, when reported, averaged about 28 inches and 22 pounds, respectively. Where race/ethnicity was reported, minority groups accounted for about 70% of those incidents.(4)


There are countless household dangers, from stairs to sharp objects to animals to electrical sockets. What I don't like is seeing adults being treated like children -- by order of federal bureaucrats.

Eric Scheie   ·  December 15, 2010 10:12 AM


Toilets have less water and they aren't as deep.

We're talking about a narrow age range of toddlers here. Big enough to walk but not big enough to extricate themselves.

In a toilet chances are the head wouldn't be fully submerged and the legs would probably hang over far enough that the toddler could shift themselves back out. In my house we have a lever holding the seat down so that our 3 year old can't get into the toilet.

Buckets can be deep enough that the toddler's center of gravity is too low, and they weigh too much to be able to lift themselves up.

Buckets are actually a good example of warning notices. Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you. Most people do not know that buckets are dangerous to toddlers.

Of course if you don't have any toddlers the notices are just annoying or funny. Until you have a toddler come to visit you.

Brian   ·  December 15, 2010 1:19 PM

I have a grossly conflicted opinion on this. It's 1) obviously government overreach to require it, and 2) still a very good idea to have on the bucket. If not for the warning, I might not have even considered the possibility of a young toddler falling into the bucket. However, now that I've seen it, I will always remember it.

John S.   ·  December 15, 2010 1:46 PM

About the anti-texting sign, I agree with you. It's futile to list all the stupid things we shouldn't do while driving (and especially futile to write the list into law). Just make it a law (as it already is) that you have to pay attention to the road. Then we won't need a new law the next time someone gets into an accident because she was shaving her, quote, bikini area, unquote, while driving.

Don   ·  December 15, 2010 5:31 PM

I have absolutely no problem with manufacturers putting warnings on buckets or anything else. It's the mandatory idiot-proofing at the behest of government that I can't stand. It is creating a culture of adult children expecting to be told what to do.

Almost anything can be dangerous; even the little memory card reader sticking out of my computer's USB port (at toddler's height) is a potential "choking hazard." Should I have been warned? Bathtubs kill thousands of people a year, and while I don't want to see a stupid warning on a bathtub that I might slip and fall, or a child might drown in one, nothing would surprise me.

The following warning appeared on a portable stroller:

"Caution: Remove infant before folding for storage."

And from a chainsaw manual:

"Do not attempt to stop the blade with your hand."

And my favorite (from a Dremel drill):

"This product not intended for use as a dental drill."

I'm thinking that maybe pliers are not intended for extracting teeth...

PLEASE NOTE, however, that the Dremel can in fact be used as a dental drill:


Eric Scheie   ·  December 15, 2010 6:12 PM


First, my toddler fell in a bucket eighteen years ago. No, seriously. I was scrubbing the kitchen floor, and he ran in and well... shoved himself in it. I think on purpose, to get my attention. Bucket fell. I was more worried with rinsing soap from his eyes. He's fine. He's right now grumbling about finals week in college.

Second, I suspect the warning sign is there due to enough cases of infanticide-disguised-as-accident.

You're right that nine times out of ten the bucket will fall. Even the tenth time, the kid can probably free himself.

But not if someone is holding his feet.

Yes, I know. Unpleasant image. Unpleasant thought. BUT pardon me, I grew up in a village where bleach was sold and dispensed into household bottles. It was about ten times more powerful than what we buy here. (It got dilluted a lot. A litter scrubbed a lot of patios, plus soaked a lot of clothes.) You could smell it a mile off. And yet, every authority warned us not to put bleach in wine bottles, because if we did kids would drink it, thinking it was wine. (Yeah, that's a whole other matter, and one I'm divided on.)

Look, no kid in his right mind, smelling the bleach would think it was wine. No kid tasting it would go on to chug half a bottle. And yet I remember at least three who died that way in my childhood.


Sarah   ·  December 16, 2010 9:41 AM

What we need to ban is dihodrogen monoxide.

That kills more children than buckets!

Veeshir   ·  December 16, 2010 2:50 PM

Eric, distraction can be a dangerous thing. I've seen people become distracted by pretty lights and displays. Back when I attended Comic-Con in San Diego about every 15 minutes I would have to dodge some twit all entranced by the displays around him.

Driving a car requires focus. Texting distracts you and makes it a lot easier to run into something or someone. Were it my decision to make, I'd have everybody with a cell phone shut the thing off and store in in the glove box. An actve cell phone inside a car would otherwise force the car to turn off. To make the insult even worse, upon the third occurrence the car would send a message to the police detailing just how thoughtless the driver is. There would be no criminal penalty for being so clueless, but the police would be empowered to set up a web site listing your wit lacking behavior along with the thoughtlessness of others. The best would be presented on the True TV channel along with impertinent commentary by D list celebs.

Alan Kellogg   ·  December 16, 2010 8:12 PM

What I meant but neglected to say is that one or two cases of homicide-ruled-accident would be enough for the ocmpany to protect itself from lawsuits by putting those warnings on.

Sarah   ·  December 17, 2010 12:04 AM

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