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U.S. Safety Unit Issues Warning About Bleachers

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Washington--The Consumer Product Safety Commission, responding to more than a dozen reports of collapsing gymnasium bleachers, last week warned schools and the public that some bleachers may give way if not properly operated and maintained.

Since 1978, 16 known bleacher collapses have occurred involving manual, telescopic bleachers manufactured between 1966 and 1979 under the trade names Interkal, Vecta, and Brunswick, according to a statement released by the commission.

The incidents took place during school activities, resulting in injuries to schoolchildren ranging from minor bruises to more serious injuries to the arm, leg, ankle, and back, according to the c.p.s.c.

An independent Education Week investigation last spring identified nine Interkal and Vecta bleacher-related accidents over the past seven years that resulted in at least 220 injuries, including a skull fracture suffered by a Colorado woman in May. (See Education Week, June 7, 1989.)

The c.p.s.c. said investigations revealed that if the bleachers are not properly opened and maintained, they may one day collapse.

It advised owners of manual, telescopic bleachers to inspect the bleachers for signs of damage, wear, and misalignment before further use. The bleachers should also be routinely inspected and maintained at least twice a year in accordance with the owner's manual, the commission said.

The agency also recommended that the bleachers be opened and closed only by trained personnel, not by students. Guardrails, it said, should be installed as a safety precaution and to ensure that the bleachers are fully extended.

Action by Interkal

Interkal Inc. of Kalamazoo, Mich., which bought the Interkal name and bleacher line in 1981 and says it is not legally liable for bleachers manufactured before that year, last week mailed warning labels for the problem bleachers that include cautions similar to those issued by the agency.

"We don't have legal liability for them, but we do have the desire to help the customer and the Consumer Product Safety Commission," said Francis J. Hubbell, the firm's president.

He said the company also has revised the safety-alert handbook it sends to owners of bleachers manufactured between 1966 and 1979.

Also assisting in the warning effort, as well as in the federal investigation, has been u.i.s. Inc., of New York. The company is an offshoot of United Industrial Syndicate of New York, which bought the Vecta Group Inc.'s school-products line in 1974.

Judith Hayes, a compliance officer with the commission's division of corrective actions, said last week's warning essentially completes her agency's investigation of the bleacher industry. The warning does not accuse or absolve any manufacturer of responsibility for the bleacher collapses, she said.

The commission urged owners of bleachers who have problems or questions to call (616) 349-1521.

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