The CPSC today announced a recall of a product called "Bathtub Subs". The battery-operated bathtub submarine toy is "yellow, has a smiling face, turquoise windows, an orange propeller and an orange periscope that turns the toy on and off. The intake valve has a water pump that sucks in water to propel the submarine." The cringe-worthy problem: "The intake valve on the bottom of the submarine toy can suck up loose skin, posing laceration hazard to children. . . . CPSC and the company are aware of 19 incidents of lacerations to boys' genital area. One of the incidents required medical attention."
This product has a real safety issue, and it has nothing to do with lead. We can understand the problem because the issues can be described accurately and the injuries can be measured. This is how we can measure the right response. The product was aimed at very young children (toddlers) in bath-time play. It seems foreseeable that the toy might rest against "sensitive" areas. The product was not apparently designed with this risk in mind. Please contrast your ability to assess the issue here with, say, rocks, fossils, pens, ATVs, bicycles, musical instruments, children's underwear, shoes, books and other products that have famously run afoul of the CPSIA's restrictions on lead without demonstrating any apparent safety issues.
As a toy maker, I hate when this kind of problem happens. It makes all of us look bad, even we had nothing to do with the issue. We all get blamed for problems caused by other companies. This is how CPSIA's are born.
There were 19 incidents in the last year with this product. Makes you wonder what it takes to get someone to do something about the issue. Do you think this was a "mystery"? Here's what you find on the Amazon.com review page today (before it gets taken down):
"Dangerous toy, May 25, 2010
By Tyler Warren
I bought this toy for my 12 month old son. He was playing with it in the bath one evening and put it down in his lap. It sucked up some skin on his penis and cut it. I called and put in a complaint to Munchkin and I am very disappointed that this toy is still on the market a month later. This toy is dangerous and should not be given to children.
Comment Initial post: June 15, 2010 8:37 PM PDT
Julie Everett says:
The same thing happened to my 19 month old son tonight. I reported it to the CPSP [sic]. You should do the same since the company didn't take you seriously. My son has injuries to his penis and testicles. Here is the link if you like. https://www.cpsc.gov/cgibin/incident.aspx
By Julie Everett (Florida)
My son loves this toy. Tonight he was playing with it in the tub and also set it in his lap and it sucked some of the skin from his penis and his testicles and cut both of them. I will be filing a complaint with the company as well. Do not buy this for your child!
By Pamela Beightol (Falconer, NY United States)
I had the same thing happen to my 15 month old when he was playing with the toy. His skin from his penis got cut after about 3 minutes play with the toy. I would not let my 5 year old play with it either.
I would have given it no stars if possible, August 26, 2010
By Kendall Tupker
The same thing happened to my 13 month old son. We had just given him this toy to play with in the bathtub and within a few minutes he was screaming in pain. While he was holding it in the water near his lap it caught his foreskin and cut him. Needless to say the sub ended up in the garbage and I made a complaint to the company. Never, ever buy this toy."
This was publicly available on Amazon for months before either the company or the agency did anything about it. By all appearances, neither did Amazon.
Let's face it, this item is not exactly a dire threat to our way of life. That being said, this kind of insensitivity to consumer needs and expectations is how unjust laws like the CPSIA get written, passed and revered. It is also raw, red meat for a headline-mad CPSC anxious to justify its existence and its budget. Do I hear massive penalties?! Manufacturers have to think ahead and consider whether they want stories like this told about them. This is a compliance issue, a duty of care issue. It is NOT an issue that requires legislation. Unfortunately, nothing is routine at our regulator these days. Who knows what the implications will be flowing from this recall.
One last thought: among the many reasons that I truly HATE the CPSIA, it is the rising specter of a liability feeding frenzy over children's product safety. This can ruin what we are doing, and in any event, I don't relish planning my business around protecting myself from ravaging trial attorneys. Paranoid? Well, I received notice of this recall at 5:40 PM CST and in the next 15 minutes found these two sites devoted to this very recall:
Lawsuit Settlement Funding and Lawyers-and-Settlements.com. The latter website invites: "If your child has suffered an injury related to the use of this product, please click the link below and your complaint will be sent to a lawyer who may evaluate your claim at no cost or obligation." Remember, this was up within 15 minutes of the announcement of the recall.
Think of the chaos that will follow the much-anticipated public database. We can only pray that a Republican Congress will de-fund the database before it gets off the ground. Or else we'll all be in the ground . . . .
Vote on November 2nd. It's your duty!