-- A federal consumer safety agency recalled about 4 million of the popular Bumbo Baby Seats Wednesday after more than 20 reports of skull fractures among at least 84 falls.
The South African-based Bumbo International, maker of the seats, said it would provide owners with a repair kit to add a strap to secure babies in the seats.
Consumer groups have been pushing the Consumer Product Safety Commission for months to have the seats recalled and redesigned because babies can wriggle out of the seats and fall.
Because it's neither a child safety seat for cars nor an infant carrier or walker, the Bumbo seat isn't covered by any federal or even industry standards. But the CPSC does have the authority to recall products it doesn't regulate
The CPSC can recall a product even if it isn't covered by a safety standard if it "presents a substantial product hazard," agency spokesman Scott Wolfson said in March.
The Bumbo seats, priced between $30 and $50 each, were sold online and at stores including at Walmart, Sears, Target, Toys R Us, Babies R Us, and other stores from August 2003 through August 2012.
"Children, especially infants who are learning to move around, can squirm out of seats," the company said in a statement. "The restraint belt will help prevent children from getting out of or falling from the seat when it is used as intended: On the floor with adult supervision and never on raised surfaces."
As of Wednesday, all new Bumbo seats will include the restraint belt. A small number of seats sold in stores may include the restraint repair kit, but the majority of seats will have the belt already attached, the company says.
"Too many children were injured while using this product," says Consumer Federation of America product safety director Rachel Weintraub. "The fact that the manufacturer is changing the product by including restraints is incredibly significant."
About five years ago, Bumbo voluntarily recalled 1 million of the seats to add warning labels about the risk of using them on raised surfaces, such as tables or counters. In February, the company said in a statement that "it is important to distinguish between seats with and without the additional warning added in 2007 to evaluate the efficacy of the additional warning. "
But the 84 reports of falls involving injuries all happened after the 2007 recall. Of these, 34 occurred when the seats were used on the floor or an "unknown elevation," CPSC says. Two of these involved reports of skull fractures while others included bumps, bruises and other minor injuries. At least 19 other skull fractures were after the recall but while the seats were on high surfaces.
Nancy Cowles, executive director of the advocacy group Kids in Danger, says she's pleased the company is offering the fix, but warns the seats still will not be safe to use on counters or tables.
Bumbo competitor Prince Lionheart, which sells the BebePod, started making all of its seats with a safety strap in 2008. In December, it offered 1,000 free BebePods to anyone who sent them a Bumbo seat and wound up with "pallets and pallets" of Bumbo seats, said spokeswoman Lea Brandy-Janowicz.
Cowles questions the need for the seats at all, as they are only recommended for babies from the time they can hold their heads up until they can sit unassisted.
"It might be better even with the fix to pass on this product," says Cowles.
To order a repair kit, consumers can visit www.recall.BumboUSA.com or call (866) 898-4999 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Thursday and between 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. CT on Friday.