KEY POINTS

  • Fisher-Price's Rock 'n Play Sleeper was recalled in 2019 after dozens of infant deaths
  • The Committee on Oversight and Reform conducted an investigation later that year
  • The report states that the sleep rocker was "inadequately tested"
  • The committee has called for reforms to the Consumer Product Safety Commission

A new Congressional report has stated that popular toy company Fisher-Price “ignored” safety warnings regarding its now-recalled Rock ‘n Play sleeper and kept it on the market for years even after dozens of infant deaths tied to the product were reported.

Fisher-Price's inclined baby sleeper was introduced in the market in 2009. In April 2019, about a decade after it was released, 50 infant deaths linked with the sleep rocker were reported, leading to a major recall that involved 4.7 million products.

An investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform now states that the problem may have begun even before the product by Fisher-Price, a subsidiary of Mattel, was launched in the market. It said that that the toy giant didn't “adequately vet the sleeper for safety” before putting it out and then “batted away criticism” of the rocker for a decade before finally recalling it, NPR reported.

The investigation was launched in August of 2019 following media reports of dozens of infant deaths linked with the product, the report stated. The committee reviewed thousands of documents of infant-inclined sleep products from five manufacturers and also interviewed both current and former Fisher-Price employees.

"The Committee's investigation revealed that Fisher-Price failed to ensure the Rock 'n Play was safe before bringing it to market, ignored critical warnings from pediatricians, parents, and foreign regulators that the product was dangerous, and continued to market it for overnight sleep despite clear evidence that this put infants at risk of serious harm or death," the report stated.

Critical Warnings

The report cited issues including the lack of independent research to assess the product's safety and the company's alleged consultation of only one doctor to determine its safety prior to introducing it to the market. The doctor was reportedly not a pediatrician and was later accused by the Texas Medical Board of practicing without a license.

The report also noted that the company became aware of the issues regarding the product soon after it was launched, citing concerns from regulatory bodies in Australia and Canada, pediatricians in the U.S., and even consumers in the years after its introduction to the market.

In 2010, for instance, the Australian consumer protection agency "privately warned" the company that using the product for sleeping is "at odds with widely accepted and promoted best practices." In 2012, the company was notified that a 15-week-old infant died while on the Rock 'n Play, while a 2-month-old stopped breathing but was revived.

"Fisher-Price's poor safety practices and lack of meaningful oversight allowed the Rock 'n Play to stay on the U.S. market for a total of 10 years, during which time more than fifty infants died using the product — while the company raked in at least $200 million in revenue," it continued.

Committee chairwoman Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) called the report “damning.”

“The committee's investigation shows how corporate greed and weak federal oversight led to the deaths of dozens of babies in an unsafe product," she was quoted as saying by New York Post.

In their defense, company officials said that they did not "prioritize profits over safety," NPR reported. Fisher-Price senior vice president, Chuck Scothon, noted that "everyone at Fisher-Price believes that every product we offer is safe."

CPSC 'Lacks The Necessary Authority'

The report comes just days after Fisher-Price recalled about 27,000 units of the 2-in-1 Soothe 'n Play Glider and approximately 25,000 units of the 4-in-1 Rock 'n Glide Soother. The recall was issued after reports of four infant deaths in the 4-in-1 Rock 'n Glide Soother between April 2019 and February 2020.

The committee report also called for reforms at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), noting that it "lacks the necessary authority to protect infants from potentially deadly products." 

For instance, it issued a safety alert to the public in May 2018 after learning of the infant deaths and communicating with the Fisher-Price. In the alert, it informed consumers of infant deaths and urged parents to use restraints when using inclined sleep products.

"However, because of limitations on CPSC's authority, the alert did not mention the Rock 'n Play or Fisher-Price," the report said, adding: "CPSC should be empowered to take more decisive action to prevent dangerous products from coming to and staying on the market." 

baby-1866623_1920 Representation. Image of a baby. Photo: Pixabay