Bumbo baby chairs were recalled in the early weeks of August due to reports of the potential for injury to more children. The South African company that makes the chairsand the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled nearly 4 million of the seats after the number of injuries associated with the chairs became particularly alarming. According to a report in the US News and World Report, since 2007, there have been more than 84 babies who fell from the seats. 21 infants suffered skull fractures (http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/08/16/bumbo-recall-shows-how-companies-deal-with-faulty-products?s_cid=rss:bumbo-recall-shows-how-companies-deal-with-faulty-products). Some experts are wondering if the company did all it could to assure parents that their children were safe. The same question can be asked of all companies that make products for children.
The company originally recalled 1 million of their seats back in 2007 and began issuing greater safety warnings about the proper use of the Bumbo chair. The main issue revolves around the misuse of the chair. If it is used on a raised surface like a countertop or table, a child can fall out and suffer head trauma. Despite the “WARNING” that appears on the seat which reads “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.” Regardless of those warnings, five years later, children continue to be harmed.Thus, the latest recall.
Many parents and their babies use the product safely—profits are in the tens of millions of dollars for Bumbo International—but the company is issuing a restraint device that must be put in the chair. It is a seatbelt that is supposed to prevent a baby from falling out. Since the vast majority of these chairs are used safely, does the company bear any responsibility especially when the children who were injured were placed in dangerous circumstances? The injured children fell when the chair was placed on an elevated surface. The warnings, apparently, were not enough.
What else could the company have done?
Five years ago personal injury and child safety lawyers brought a suit against Bumbo asking that the company insert a safety harness. Instead, the company re-emphasized the safety warnings, but now they have conceded and the safety belts will be included. Shouldn’t they have included the seat belts much earlier?
What should a company do when their products are misused and lead to injuries? This an extremely difficult question to answer because the warnings should be adequate for most reasonable people. If a company has warned of hazards and they provide a relatively safe product while emphasizing that the product must be used correctly, that might be enough to protect the company from liability suits and may be enough to provide safety to consumers. But when the product is made for children, the stakes are higher. A company, like Bumbo, faces a public relations nightmare if they appear to disregard the safety of children. Public distrust beswift if child safety is not paramount.
Mattel recalled hundreds of thousands of toys that were painted with toxic paint in 2007. That same year, Graco and Simplicity cribs were recalled after they led to the death of several infants. As recently as 2011, jogging strollers from a major manufacturer were recalled because of a choking hazard. As is the case with many products, until they are used en-masse, no one can say for certain that they are safe.
Perhaps most important when a product for toddlers and babies is deemed unsafe is the speed with which the company responds to complaints and reports of injuries. Mike Rozembajgier, an expert on recalled products atStericycleExpertRecall, says “Speed is a necessary component” of responding to consumer complaints, especially when toddlers and babies are being harmed. “But it’s also important that companies get the fix right” (http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2012/0815/Bumbo-baby-seats-unsafe-at-any-height).
Whether flammable pajamas, car seats that cannot be installed correctly, or toys that have been manufactured using unsafe materials, children face a host of unexpected risks. Companies, of course, must do all that they can to ensure safety but at some point the quest for profit must trump safety. In addition to avoiding numerous lawsuits related to toddler and baby injuries, Bumbo International may have saved their public image by issuing a recall.