Bumbo baby seats: unsafe at any height

The US has long warned parents not to use Bumbo baby seats on tables. Now, all 4 million Bumbo baby seats are being recalled after reports that they can cause hazardous falls on the floor, too. 

Consumer Product Safety Commission/Reuters
A Bumbo baby seat is pictured in this handout photo. Bumbo International Trust voluntarily recalled about 4 million Bumbo Baby Seats Wednesday, Aug., 15, 2012, after babies suffered scores of injuries from falls. The company is offering parents a free repair kit that includes a safety belt.

If you own a Bumbo Baby Seat, those iconic round seats with horseshoe-shaped leg openings, the company has a message for you: Stop using them. They’re potentially dangerous.

On Wednesday, Bumbo International issued a recall for all its baby seats sold in the United States, 4 million units in all. That’s one of the larger recalls of children’s products and represents the second time that the company and federal regulators have tried to fix a recurring problem: Babies can wiggle out of the seats, fall, and injure themselves, even when the seats are used on the floor, as recommended.

Owners of the seats should contact the company for a free repair kit, which includes a seatbelt and anchors to attach the belt to the seat. Consumers can call the company toll-free (866-898-4999) or visit a special recall website where owners can order the repair kit.

Expect the kit to arrive in two to three weeks. There’s a video showing how to install the safety belt. Until the fix is made, parents should not use the baby seat, the company warns.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been warning parents for years not to place the Bumbo seat on tables, counters, or other raised surfaces. In 2007, the company issued a recall for the seats to add new labels warning against using them on raised surfaces. At the time, the CPSC had 28 reports of young children falling out of the seats, including three skull fractures.

But even after the warnings, the agency and South Africa-based Bumbo kept getting complaints – at least 50 of them, 19 of which resulted in reports of skull fractures. The continued accidents suggested that parents weren’t heeding the warning labels.

Of even more concern, the agency and Bumbo became aware of 34 other reports where babies injured themselves after a fall from a Bumbo seat placed on the floor or at an unknown elevation. Two of those incidents involved skull fractures.

As the CPSC debated what to do, “that [report] is something that made a very large difference, says Alex Filip, a CPSC spokesman. He says he doesn’t know when the agency became aware of those injuries. Bumbo says in an e-mail that it is “unable to say” how it became aware of them.

In November 2011, the CPSC issued a new warning, pointing out the reports of floor injuries. It also worked with the company on a remedy: the seatbelt fix that was announced Monday, nine months after the November warning.

Nine months is not speedy in terms of remedies, especially in the case of a children’s product.

But by all accounts, Bumbo has worked closely with the CPSC to come up with a fix, says Mike Rozembajgier, vice president of recalls for Stericycle ExpertRecall, a recall-management firm based in Indianapolis. “Speed is a necessary component” of responding to consumer complaints, especially when children are involved. But it’s also important that companies get the fix right, he adds.

In hindsight, the 2007 recall and the placement of warning labels didn’t work. Having a second recall on the same product is a blow to the Bumbo brand, but not necessarily a fatal one.

“Companies can absolutely recover” from recalls, Mr. Rozembajgier says. “It’s how they handle these challenges that will determine the road ahead.”

The company says it will continue selling the Bumbo Baby Seat – with safety belts.

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