Its lightweight and colourful design, which helps infants sit up before they are able to on their own, made the Bumbo Baby Seat a staple at baby showers in Canada for most of the past decade.
Now, because of reports of infants falling out of the seats and fracturing their skulls, Bumbo International, the manufacturer of the product, has issued a North American-wide recall.
Consumers are being told to stop using Bumbo seats altogether until they sign up for and receive a safety kit, which includes a new warning sticker and a belt that is supposed to prevent babies from falling out.
Health Canada and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a joint recall of nearly 4.7 million Bumbo seats, including nearly 342,000 that were sold in Canada from August, 2003, to August, 2012. The CPSC has received 50 reports in the past five years of children falling out of the seats from a raised surface, including 19 who suffered skull fractures. Bumbo International has collected 34 reports of children being injured after falling from the chairs when they were on the floor or raised surfaces.
The recall is the latest in a series of safety issues regarding the product. In 2007, Health Canada and the CPSC issued a warning to never place an infant in a Bumbo seat on a raised surface, such as a table or countertop, and urged caregivers to never leave a seated child unattended. The announcement came after 28 children fell out of Bumbo seats in the United States, with three suffering skull fractures. One infant in Canada suffered a skull fracture after falling out of the seat, Health Canada said.
Health Canada issued a second warning last December after receiving reports of five children who had fallen out of Bumbo seats. Three had minor injuries.
Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers' Association of Canada, questions whether the new safety kit will make much of a difference. "I think there should be an absolute, outright recall," he said.
The problem with supplying safety kits, rather than requiring consumers to return risky products and remove them from store shelves, is that it relies on people volunteering for the fix, Mr. Cran said. Many consumers simply may not sign up for the kit; others may install the safety belt incorrectly.
For its part, Bumbo International is disputing the fact that its product is under recall, saying instead that it has decided to enhance product safety by introducing a restraint belt. A statement from the company says the Bumbo seat is "designed to only be used on the floor and never on a raised surface, even with the belt." It doesn't mention the dozens of injuries linked to the product.
Many people responded to the recall on social media by saying it's not a fault of the product if parents do not supervise their infants properly. The Bumbo Canada website also urges parents to keep the seats on the floor and not to leave their children unattended.
But the design of the product seems to imply a hands-free element. An archived version of the Bumbo Canada site from January, 2011, advertises it as "hands-free baby care" and says it is perfect for feeding or attending to more than one child.
Christy Wilson, a mother of two who lives in Kingston, Ont., used the Bumbo seat regularly when her daughter was a baby. But her son, who is 1, would wriggle, making her hesitant to use it.
Although branding encourages parents to keep the seat on the floor, accessories such as a clip-on feeding tray seem to suggest that it can be used on a raised surface. "In all seriousness, it would be hard to lean over ... if you were feeding them like that," Ms. Wilson said.
The Bumbo recall also puts Health Canada's new consumer product safety legislation in the spotlight. The law requires manufacturers to report problems with products to the government, and the health minister has the power to order unsafe goods off the market. The legislation also shifts much responsibility for product safety to industry.
Tina Green, director-general of the consumer product safety directorate at Health Canada, said in an interview that it's up to manufacturers to ensure that their products are safe, while the department focuses on monitoring the situation, collecting incident reports and sending out information to the public.
But Mr. Cran suggests that Health Canada should play more of a pro-active leadership role, rather than monitoring situations and relying on industry. "At the moment, I just question where Health Canada is," he said. "There shouldn't be any hesitation on the part of the government. One child at risk is too many."
Details on the recall and signing up for the safety kit are available here.