GOVERNMENT to create new safety standard for baby bath seats

Thursday, May 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government says it will create a new safety standard for baby bath seats, which have been linked to the deaths of 78 infants since 1983.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which rejected requests to regulate or ban the seats in 1994, also issued a warning, telling parents to ``never leave a baby alone in the water for even a second.''

Parents of victims, along with consumer and children's advocacy groups, had asked the government to ban the seats, which are designed to keep infants in a sitting position in full-sized bathtubs for easier bathing.

Those seeking a ban argue that about eight infants die each year when the seats tip over, or babies climb out of or slide through the seat's leg holes.

Manufacturers counter that using the seats is safer than bathing babies without them and that 75 of the 78 victims had been left alone when they drowned.

``No matter how you may feel about the parent's behavior, it is the children dying, not the parent,'' Ann Brown, chairwoman of the safety commission, said Wednesday. ``These babies deserve our protection.''

While stopping short of a ban, the safety commission said it had decided to study improvements to make the seats more stable. Along with the research, the agency will review comments from the public and the industry before moving to enact a new standard. The process can take several months or as long as a year.

Safety 1st, which manufactures virtually all baby bath seats in the United States, did not immediately return messages Wednesday.

About 10 other companies have left the business in the past few years, but their bath seats may still be in use, the safety commission said.

The Juvenile Product Manufacturer's Association, an industry group, said before the government's decision that voluntary standards already ensure the safety of bath seats and that, on average, more babies drown when left alone in regular bathtubs than those left unattended in bath seats.

The Consumer Federation of America and nine other organizations blame the seats for giving parents a ``false sense of security,'' making them more likely to leave an infant alone.

Stephanie Lynn Vozenilek, 23, of Mount Vernon, Iowa, said that sense of safety played a role in the death of her 7-month-old daughter, Olivia.

Last June, Vozenilek briefly left the room where she was bathing her daughter and when she returned she found Olivia ``completely trapped underneath the water'' after the seat had tipped over.

``I was so comfortable with the seat that I took a risk that I, as a loving, caring mother, would never otherwise have taken,'' said Vozenilek, who added that she is suing Safety 1st.

A third of new mothers own bath seats and up to 1 million are sold each year, the agency said.

In addition to the 78 deaths, there were 110 ``near-miss'' accidents involving the seats reported since January 1983, the safety commission said. Nearly all the drowned babies were between five months old and 10 months old.

The safety commission said some of the incidents were caused by suction cup failures that caused the seats to tip over. The seats are only designed to stick to smooth surfaces, and many tubs sold today have textured bottoms to prevent slips.

The bath seats usually have three or four legs that attach to bathtub bottoms with the suction cups. The seats are only recommended for infants who are at least six months old or can sit up unassisted. Parents should stop using them once children can try to stand by pulling themselves up on objects, which occurs at about nine months.