Ismail and Imtiaaz Essa, the directors of Anchor International - the distributors of Chelino Baby - explained on Friday that alarm over unsafe child seats was unfounded.
This after last week’s report that an NGO that advocates for road safety had raised concern about the protection of three car seats - one by Ganen Fine Living and two Chelino seats - which were recalled in Europe in May because they pose a serious risk, but not in South Africa by the local authorities.
On the Essas’ invitation, the brothers took me on a tour of their premises in Booysens, to explain in detail the technical aspects of design, manufacture and distribution.
They founded their business on baby nappies in 1995. The “child hardware” division grew from that, when they identified a gap in the South African market for quality products, at an affordable price, which weren’t imported via Europe. They started importing their products directly from the Far East and today they supply the whole of southern Africa and parts of the Middle East.
Sourcing goods from about 30 factories, Chelino private-labels its imports, Imtiaaz Essa explained. “South Africa and a number of other countries are regularised by the European Commission of Economics, which is linked to the United Nations. Manufacturers come up with designs and start testing the ‘shells’. When that’s approved, they send the shell to the ECE to get a test report. If that’s approved, they contact their customers around the world.”
This process can take more than a year. Once the manufacturers are armed with the ECE test report and approval, their customers in each member state contact the regulators. In South Africa, automotive engineers from the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) then look at the report carefully. “If the engineers are not happy with an aspect of it, they contact the ECE, which orders the manufacturer to do batch retesting,” he said.
This step is crucial, because batch discrepancies in child seats, such as changes to buckles, harnesses or plastics could cause safety issues. All technical components need to be checked and verified before a homologation certificate, which indicates that a product meets regulatory standards and specifications, such as safety and technical requirements, is issued by local authorities.
In an e-mail, the NRCS elaborated on this process: “We review application forms on receipt, inspect samples of products and evaluate the technical documentations as required by the VC 8033 - compulsory specification for child restraints. When the company’s application conforms, we then issue a homologation/LOA (letter of authority) certificate.
“Where a commodity is found to be non-compliant with certain compulsory specifications, the company is informed in writing to correct or come up with a corrective action to address the non-compliant product. The approval process can only be finalised once all the information has been received from the client. In cases where non-compliance cannot be corrected, the application will be rejected.”
Ismail Essa emphasised if customs officials weren’t satisfied with that homologation certificate, they wouldn’t issue a stamp to allow the import.
Production runs are normally between 5 000 to 10 000 units and manufacture is tightly controlled via random testing by TUV, according to ECE regulations. With a turnaround time of around three months, batch numbers change all the time, which is where confusion sets in.
The child seats recalled by the ECE in May were not batches imported by Chelino, Imtiaaz said. They used to import them (the LB702 040032 and LB383 045045), but stopped doing so in 2012.
He assured that the recall, which applied only to a couple of countries that sold the seats from batches with specific serial numbers, didn’t affect Chelino’s past or present clients, since they weren’t sold in the local market. Insofar as the LB513 and HB616 (the Chelino Phantom Baby), there are no recalls issued for this product.
Peggy Mars from Wheel Well, who voiced concern about the seats from Chelino and Ganen, met Ganen’s importers, Calasca Trading, last Tuesday and told me she was satisfied Zhejiang Ganen Technologies, the manufacturer, had been notified about the recall and that they identified a particular batch as faulty. Again, the problematic seats were withdrawn from the market, but they were never sold here.
The Essas have challenged the authenticity of the YouTube videos showing the HB616 crumbling on impact. “We have a valid homologation certificate for the HB616 and LB513, which are part of the Phantom range.
“There’s no question about the safety, but we do question the videos purporting to show them crumbling in the crash test. If you look at the videos, the seat isn’t even properly secured, as the belt doesn’t go through the car seat slot.
“The incorrect car belt fitting will cause the incorrect test result. The dummy’s too big. Only the ECE testing house, which issued the report, can retest the seat. The rig should have been calibrated to ECE specs and regulations. We don’t know any details about this. There are many problems with those videos.”
They’ve raised concerns about reconditioned, second-hand car seats, saying it’s simply not allowed for safety reasons.
They warn that these seats are “dolled up” to look good and in a usable condition, when there could be latent defects, such as belts tampered with replacement harnesses and buckles, and side-impact protections replaced.
“If any person is willing to accept hand-me-down car seats, then the brand label and the ECE number (orange sticker) should be removed, as these car seats are warranted to be ‘death traps’,” Ismael said.
Those supplying the second-hand seats should bear responsibility for any incident jeopardising the safety of the child: “What if that car seat had been involved in a crash and the person who’s donating it just wants to get rid of it?
“The seat’s buckles and harnesses have come under strain - you’re not necessarily going to see the damage if you’re just cleaning it up.
“We all know how babies and children spill things in their car seats - juice and milk soaks into the seat, causing corrosion of the buckles, which will fail during a crash.
“It’s for this reason that we don’t sell harnesses or buckles because we don’t know what they are being used for - or how. We would rather sell products that are a little more affordable to parents to encourage them to get the seats, and to get a new seat for every child, at every stage.
“We believe the death trap is, in fact, the latent defect in the reconditioned seat.”