Mattel’s Fisher-Price ignored warning on sleeper, House says

Kelly Gilblom
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Mattel Inc.’s Fisher-Price unit failed to ensure its now-discontinued Rock ’n Play baby sleeper was safe and ignored warnings that it might endanger infants, a U.S. House of Representatives committee report concluded.

Fisher-Price marketed the rocking seat for overnight use despite a lack of evidence that sleeping in an angled position was safe for babies, according to the report released Monday by the staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Infant fatalities have occurred in Rock 'n Play Sleepers, after the infants rolled from their back to their stomach or side while unrestrained, or under other circumstances.

Mattel started selling Rock ’n Play Sleeper toys in October 2009. Over 10 years, more than 30 infants died while using the product, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most of the babies died after rolling from their backs to the face-down position, possibly the result of parents not using restraints that came with the device. Mattel recalled the product in April 2019, offering refunds for 4.7 million sleepers.

Committee chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) delivers opening remarks during a House Oversight Committee hearing about infant deaths associated with the Rock 'n Play Sleeper sold by Fisher-Price, a subsidiary of Mattel, on Capitol Hill June 7, 2021 in Washington.

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Fisher-Price’s internal safety committee warned the company three times in 2008 and 2009 that research was needed before bringing the Rock ’n Play to market, according to the report. The House staff found that no such research was done.

In testimony before the congressional committee on Monday, Mattel executives outlined steps they took over the years to ensure the product was safe, including making design changes after identifying problems and retaining doctors and engineers as consultants. Chuck Scothon, a senior vice president and general manager at Fisher-Price, said he bought the Rock ’n Play for his own friends and family because he believed “that every product we offer is safe,” according to written testimony submitted to the committee.

Scothon and Chief Executive Officer Ynon Kreiz both said that the product was safe when parents followed the safety instructions but that the incidents were tragic.

CEO of Mattel Ynon Kreiz is displayed on a monitor while speaking remotely during a House Oversight Committee hearing about infant deaths associated with the Rock 'n Play Sleeper sold by Fisher-Price, a subsidiary of Mattel, on Capitol Hill June 7, 2021 in Washington.

“Despite our comprehensive product-development process, we sometimes learn new facts about a product after it is already on the market,” Kreiz said in his testimony. “We will not hesitate to recall a product when we determine that a recall is in consumers’ best interests.”

Members of the committee repeatedly hit back at both executives, arguing they were blaming the parents for the deaths of their children by improperly using the devices. Kreiz insisted he wasn’t blaming them, though said they recalled the Sleeper device because the company discovered people weren’t following the directions.

Representatives also accused the company of failing to hire an appropriate medical professional to review the device before putting it on the market, saying it relied on one non-pediatric doctor who lost his license in 2015 and was later sanctioned for practicing medicine without the proper credentials. Further, they pointed out Mattel didn’t recall the Sleeper until reports of the infant deaths were leaked to Consumer Reports, which investigated and published details about the fatalities in April 2019.

“This is a national scandal. It is breathtakingly irresponsible. It is corporate conduct that cannot be tolerated. It has to change in the future,” said Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York who chairs the House Oversight and Reform committee.

Incidentally, last week, the same issues that plagued the Rock ’n Play Sleeper affected two other Mattel products with a similar design. The 4-in-1 Rock ’n Glide Soother and 2-in-1 Soothe ’n Play Glider were manufactured between 2014 and 2021, and allowed babies to lie at an incline while a motor rocked the device. Four babies died while using the Rock ’n Glide Soother after flipping over to their stomachs. Both products were recalled Friday, affecting about 200,000 units.

“Inclined products, such as gliders, soothers, rockers and swings are not safe for infant sleep, due to the risk of suffocation,” the CPSC’s acting chairman, Robert Adler, said in a statement Friday.

A spokesperson for Fisher-Price said the company had formed a medical council of pediatricians, and added other “respected leaders in quality, safety and compliance.” It also started an education campaign called Safe Start to talk to parents about health and development.

“We believe that every child should grow up in an environment surrounded by purposeful products that have been designed to keep them safe,” the company said in a statement.

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