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August 18, 2012

Navigating toy store aisles

by: T. David Hoyle

The view from the toy aisle has certainly changed since I was growing up. Going to the toy store was always a treat-I would get that gleam in my eyes, just like we saw Ralphie get as he looked into the toy store window in the movie A Christmas Story. But times have changed. Now when I shop for my son, I am much more cautious and don't have that same gleam in my eye.

As the father of a toddler, I am beginning to recognize the many dangers that child products can present and how challenging it can be for parents to keep their children safe. While many seem fun, innovative and, on the surface, safe, unfortunately, many of them are very dangerous for children. And in my line of work, I am constantly reminded of the many precautions that parents need to take while using products with their children.

When Bumbo® recalled their popular baby seats in mid-August, I immediately sent an e-mail to all of my friends and family who have babies and love their Bumbo telling them to stop using the seats. This seat is designed for infants who can't yet sit up by themselves but can support their heads. It allows them more freedom to play. However, as manufactured, the seats lack a safety restraint, and as we all know, babies can easily and quickly wriggle out of most anything if not properly secured. As made, even when Bumbos are used on the floor, children can be seriously injured. For this reason, consumer groups have pushed from the beginning to have them taken off the market because babies could fall from the seats and suffer serious head injuries, including skull fractures and concussions.

August's recall was Bumbo's second. In 2007, the company recalled the seats, added a warning on the front of the seat, and alerted caregivers not to use the seat on an elevated surface. However, since then, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Bumbo have been notified of 19 skull fractures from an estimated 50 reports of infants falling from Bumbo seats used on high surfaces such as countertops, chairs or tables. Since little had changed in five years since the first recall, it may not have been surprising when Bumbo International Trust voluntarily recalled the nearly 4 million seats that they've sold since 2003 when they were first sold. The Bumbo recall also includes those recalled in 2007. The recent recall is to provide a new warning and restraint belt, which Bumbo is offering in a free repair kit. Learn if your Bumbo product is included in the recall.

Again, since these types of recalls are all too familiar for me, having represented parents whose children have been seriously hurt by defective products, I'd like to share some precautions that I take when purchasing new toys and products for my son, including:

  • Researching product information online before purchasing and see if there have been any previous recalls.
  • Carefully reading the warning labels before buying toys. Be sure toys are age-appropriate for all children in the family.
  • Looking for well-made toys. Beware of toys manufactured in foreign countries.
  • Not buying toys made with phthalate, a toxic plastic hardener often found in rubber duckies and lunch boxes.
  • Using a toilet paper roll to determine if a toy is too small. If it can pass easily through the roll, it's a choking hazard.
  • Always monitoring children when they are playing with toys or using products.
  • If assembly is required, following instructions completely.
  • Not allowing riding toys near stairs, traffic or swimming pools.
  • Teaching children to put toys away after playing. Toy chests should have safety hinges or no lids.
  • Checking toys regularly and repair or discard damaged ones immediately.
  • Staying alert to any recalls. I subscribe to CPSC Breaking News & Recent Recalls.

You can find more safety tips online on the Safe Kids USA website which even breaks down safety tips by age groups. Even if you don't have children, but buy presents for friends or family, please keep these tips in mind when gift-giving.

As a child at heart, I know how hard it is to resist giving into children's requests for toys, especially when all of their friends have something they don't. However, resist the urge to impulse buy and carefully make your selections. I promise your child will thank you in the long run.