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2 makers of popular baby products just avoided recalls, even as federal officials acknowledge safety problems

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The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, for the second time in recent months, has sided with manufacturers of baby products that have caused death or...

Posted: Apr 11, 2019 5:06 PM

The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, for the second time in recent months, has sided with manufacturers of baby products that have caused death or injury to infants.

The American Academy of Pediatrics on Tuesday called for the immediate recall of the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper, citing a Consumer Reports analysis linking the popular sleeper to 32 infant deaths.

The demand comes just months after the federal agency tasked with protecting consumers from hazardous toys and products allowed another manufacturer, Britax, to resolve reports of injuries involving its popular BOB Gear jogging strollers without issuing a recall.

In the case of the baby sleeper, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Fisher-Price on Friday issued an alert asking customers to stop using the popular product if their children can roll over. It cited reports of 10 infant deaths since 2015.

Fisher-Price also has said it does not believe its baby sleeper caused all the deaths reported by Consumer Reports, claiming some of the children either had a previous medical condition or the product was not used properly, the journal reported.

But the pediatricians' group said the CPSC warning did not go far enough and called for stores to remove the sleeper from its shelves.

'Consumers will come up short,' officials warned

The CPSC in November settled with Britax over how to inform consumers about strollers involved in at least 50 injuries to children and 47 adults. That deal also stopped short of a recall.

Two CPSC commissioners, however, issued a dissenting opinion to the administrative court settlement between the agency and the manufacturer, writing that "consumers will come up short in terms of safety" under the agreement.

"We fear that other respondents will invoke this agreement as a precedent in future recalls, thereby lessening safety for far more consumers than are affected by this agreement," Commissioners Robert Adler and Elliot Kaye wrote.

The settlement followed a CPSC administrative complaint against Britax Child Safety, maker of the BOB Gear off-road strollers. The agency sought a recall, alleging that a quick release mechanism on the strollers failed to secure the front wheel to the fork. The defect represented a substantial hazard leading to serious injuries, the CPSC said.

The company fought against the recall, maintaining its product was not defective.

The BOB stroller has a quick-release feature that, when used properly, "is safe and doesn't require a recall," Britax President Robert McCutcheon said in a statement.

"It allows you to quickly remove the front wheel, making it easy to fold up for storage or transport," the statement said. "But, some stroller users were unfamiliar with, or had trouble with, this feature, leading to some reports of injuries."

He said the company was also updating an educational campaign website on use of the strollers.

Injuries to children on the BOB Gear off-road strollers included a concussion, head and face trauma requiring stitches, dental injuries, contusions and abrasions; adults suffered a torn labrum, fractured bones, torn ligaments, contusions and abrasions.

Adler and Kaye, two Democrats on the five-member CPSC, called the agreement "misleading" for failing to characterize the manufacturer's corrective action plan as a recall.

The dissenting commissioners wrote that the manufacturer agreed to inform dealers and retailers that Britax "resolved this litigation without a recall developing and launching an information campaign to further instruct consumers how to safely and correctly operate the Quick Release on the BOB strollers manufactured prior to September 2015."

"It's not quite analogous to a tree falling in a forest with no one to hear it, but it's close," Adler and Kaye wrote. "Having an agreement that provides relief without anyone being fully alerted to the nature of the relief is pretty much no relief at all."

In announcing the settlement, The CPSC said Britax will "develop and launch an information campaign that will include an instructional video demonstrating how to safely and correctly operate the quick release on the front wheel of the strollers."

The agreement "does not constitute an admission by Britax, or a determination by the Commission, that BOB jogging strollers contain a defect or are a substantial product hazard," according to the CPSC.

The company also agreed to offer replacement parts or discounts on new strollers to users who requested them.

The commission approved the Britax settlement to avoid "a prolonged, protracted, and uncertain lawsuit," acting CPSC Chairwoman Ann Marie Buerkle said in a statement.

"The Britax settlement advances consumer safety," she said. "I urge those who own the strollers to take part in Britax's education and information campaign."

Nonprofit says CPSC recalls dropped 44% in 2018

"They got away without calling it a recall," Nancy Cowles, executive director of the nonprofit Kids in Danger, said of Britax. "If a product is not recalled, there is nothing to stop selling those or new parents from buying."

Cowles noted that the number of recalls involving products for children in 2018 -- 52 -- represented a 44% drop from the 93 recalls in 2017. That's the lowest in at least 10 years, she said.

"We do think that this is a trend," she said. "Part of the problem now is innate in that the manufacturer has a lot of power. There is a lot of pushback by manufacturers."

A Kids in Danger report released last month said that "the product safety system has a long way to go to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable consumers -- children."

Less than five months after the Britax settlement, the CPSC determination on the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper has come under scrutiny.

"This product is deadly and should be recalled immediately," said Dr. Kyle Yasuda, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"When parents purchase a product for their baby or child, many assume that if it's being sold in a store, it must be safe to use. Tragically, that is not the case. There is convincing evidence that the Rock 'n Play inclined sleeper puts infants' lives at risk, and CPSC must step up and take immediate action to remove it from stores and prevent further tragedies."

Chuck Scothon, general manager at Fisher-Price, said in a statement that the sleeper meets all "applicable safety standards" and that the "safety of children is our highest priority. The loss of a child is tragic and heart-breaking."

Scothon said the company stands by the safety of the sleeper and continued to work with the commission on the safe use of its products.

"It is essential that the product warnings and instructions are always followed," the statement said. "We will continue to do all we can to ensure that parents and caregivers have the information necessary to create a safe sleep environment for infants."

CPSC is investigating Rock 'n Play deaths, it says

The pediatricians' group noted that Consumer Reports concluded that 32 deaths, between 2011 and 2018, included babies younger than the 3-month threshold in the initial warning. The cause of death for some babies was asphyxia, or the inability to breathe, caused by the babies' position.

"We cannot put any more children's lives at risk by keeping these dangerous products on the shelves," said Dr. Rachel Moon, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Task Force on sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.

The pediatricians' group does not recommend inclined sleep products such as Rock 'n Play, or any other products that require restraining a baby. It also advises against using car seats, strollers or other devices for sleep. The group said babies could roll or turn into an unsafe position and suffer suffocation or strangulation when unable to move.

The CPSC said last week that the 10 reported fatalities -- of babies 3 months or older -- involved infants who rolled from their back to their stomach or side while unrestrained. The warning did not say what caused the infants' deaths.

The latest death was reported last month, said Patty Davis, a spokeswoman with the CPSC. It's unclear when the other deaths took place.

The CPSC recommended the public stop using the sleeper if their children are 3 months old or "as soon as an infant exhibits rollover capabilities."

The commission is aware of the report of additional fatalities, Davis said.

"We are investigating other deaths that have occurred in the Rock 'n Play," she said in a statement. "CPSC has requirements it must follow for any decisions concerning recalls. If the evidence shows the need for a recall, we will take that step. We continue to work on this very important safety issue."

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