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Graco’s Stroller Death Risks Were Identified in 2004

Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is leading a recall of strollers from Graco Children’s Products Inc., six years ago warned an industry body led by a company employee about possible deaths in strollers.

Graco, a unit of Newell Rubbermaid Inc., today recalled about 2 million of its products after four babies were strangled from 2003 through 2005 in the Quattro Tour and MetroLite models, according to an agency statement. The CPSC urged the industry to redesign strollers as early as 2005.

“This was a well-known hazard,” said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger, a Chicago-based consumer group. “This took a long time. The CPSC is in a position of cajoling to get a recall. It’s a process that doesn’t serve the consumer well.”

A letter from Patricia Hackett of the CPSC engineering sciences division, dated Feb. 8, 2005, asked the industry standard-setting body ASTM International to make the redesign of strollers a priority, and described two meetings in 2004 that discussed the issue. The letter, prompted by deaths of at least three infants, was addressed to Ronald Hoffman, a Graco employee and at the time chairman of the ASTM stroller subcommittee.

CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson declined to comment on the letter that outlines the agency’s knowledge of an entrapment death of a seven-month-old infant in May 2003. Additional deaths linked to Graco products were uncovered this year, he said.

Accidents can occur, especially for infants under a year old, when they are unstrapped and their heads become wedged between the stroller tray and seat bottom, the agency said in its statement today.

Fresh Review

The CPSC ordered today’s recall after a fresh review this year of old cases involving all strollers, Wolfson said. In examining those cases, the CPSC found one death and triggered a further investigation that turned up additional fatalities tied to Graco products.

“We reached a point where we needed to do a recall of this product to help prevent any further harm to children,” Wolfson said. The agency urged consumers to stop using the recalled models and contact Graco for a free repair kit.

Wolfson declined to comment on when the agency began negotiating with Graco for the recall. The company was required by law to report any stroller-related deaths at the time of the fatality, he said.

The ASTM industry safety standard, which took effect in January 2008, protects against the hazard, known as submarining, by requiring a larger opening that avoids trapping or strangling an infant, the agency said.

‘Judgment Calls’

Graco reported the 2003-2005 stroller deaths to the CPSC as required by law, company President Doug McGraw said in an interview. The company and the CPSC then decided to stress teaching consumers to use safety harnesses in the strollers to prevent accidents rather than taking other action, he said.

“These are judgment calls,” McGraw said. “At the time, the judgment was these were safe products, and the right course of action was to increase our education.”

Graco hasn’t received reports of further deaths tied to the stroller since 2005, McGraw said. Today’s action reflects the CPSC’s focus on older baby products, which remain in use for a longer period, he said.

“We made the decision to take it one step further and make the products even safer by installing this kit that would make it physically impossible -- with or without the harness -- for the child to slide down,” McGraw said.

Quattro Tour, MetroLite

The recall involves versions of the Quattro Tour made before November 2006 and the MetroLite model manufactured before July 2007, the CPSC said. The models can be used safely as an infant auto seat because there isn’t a space gap in the car, the agency said.

Retailers including Sears Holdings Corp., Toys R Us Inc. and Target Corp. sold the strollers from November 2000 through December 2007, the agency said. Consumers should contact Graco at 1-877-828-4046 or on www.gracobaby.com, the CPSC said.

Hoffman, a Graco engineering services manager, has since retired, said David Doolittle, a Newell Rubbermaid spokesman. While ASTM helps write voluntary standards, it doesn’t play a role in recalls, McGraw said.

In March, Graco recalled 1.2 million highchairs because screws can loosen in the legs. That action was prompted by 464 incident reports, including 24 injuries.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net.

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