When the Bumbo International child seat came on the U.S. market in 2003, many parents were excited: here was a seat designed to hold a baby upright, a baby who until then was able to hold only his or her head up.
The manufacturer — Bumbo International Trust of South Africa — has sold about 3.85 million Bumbo Baby Sitter seats in the U.S. The seats are made from molded foam, soft enough for a baby but firm enough to keep the child upright — until the unexpected happens.
An infant can lean, lurch or tumble while in the chair and cause it to tip over, sometimes with enough force to cause serious injury. By 2007, Bumbo International and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, were aware of 28 injuries to young children aged three months to ten months.
Three of those injuries were skull fractures, and they happened after the seat had been placed on an elevated surface, such as a table. Bumbo International worked with the CPSC in 2007 on a voluntary recall. The company agreed to print the following warning on each chair:
“WARNING — Never use on a raised surface. Never use as a car seat or bath seat. Designed for floor level use only. Never leave your baby unattended as the seat is not designed to be totally restrictive and may not prevent release of your baby in the event of vigorous movement.”
On the chair we inspected, the print was tiny and some of it had rubbed off.
In a perfect world, the warning might have solved the tipping problem. Since ours is a less-than-perfect world, the tipping continued — 95 more injuries the CPSC is aware of since the 2007 recall. And 50 of those happened while the seat was being used on the floor or when it was not clear from reports where the seat was being used.
The CPSC and Bumbo International made a joint announcement last November strongly urging consumers never to put the seats on any raised surface. They also urged that a child never be left unattended.
While some find fault with caregivers for failing to heed the printed warnings, five consumer and safety organizations say the manufacturer and CPSC are not blameless. The Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Kids In Danger and Public Citizen last week wrote to the CPSC. They said they have “grave concerns” about the safety of Bumbo seats, adding that “manufacturers of similar products have made design changes to address the safety concerns associated with these types of products — a step Bumbo International has refused to take to date.”
In their letter the groups are calling for a total recall of Bumbo seats. They said the chairs should stay off the market until the manufacturer redesigns them and makes them safer. On Thursday, Bumbo International issued a statement, saying its seat “is a safe product for infants when it is used as intended.” USA Today reported that, when asked why the company doesn’t add a seat belt to prevent children from falling out, Bumbo said a safety strap would give parents “a false sense of security.”
The future of the seat may rest with the U.S. District Court in Texas. Parents of a child injured in a tipping incident are suing Bumbo. The company maintains its product poses no greater risk of falls than “when a child is crawling, sitting or learning to walk.” An official with Kids In Danger says the number of injuries relative to total seats on the market may seem small, until it’s your child who’s hurt.
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