Behind the Scenes of Kolcraft's Safety Team

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As we continue to celebrate Grandparents in a special way this week, we wanted to give you a behind the scenes look at one of our very young at heart Kolcraft Grandparents–Russ Butson who is our Senior Product Safety Manager.

Russ, you have been at Kolcraft for 4 years but you have been working in the world of “safety” for quite some time. What made you choose this rather intense line of work?

My temperament is one that makes me look for a “mission” in life. I’ve worked in areas from jet engines to implantable medical devices to high-end bikes. But I’m proud that my wife calls me a baby whisperer. I found that sense of mission working in product safety for babies. They have no idea what to do and not to do with a product. Everything they can reach is fair game to be grabbed, mouthed, batted, sat on, crawled through, you name it. So everything has to be thought through ahead of time FOR them in order to protect them. It’s very much a sense of service to others that I’ve never found in other professional areas

Can you explain a little the world of safety regulations?
1. Many of the voluntary product performance standards in the US are created through the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM). The committees that create and update these standards consist of people in similar positions as mine throughout our industry, safety advocates, representatives from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and often other countries’ equivalents, laboratories that test products, other interested organizations and even individual consumers. I appreciate that my position allows me to work with people from differing perspectives to focus on creating performance standards which help keep babies safe.
2. There are also safety requirements set by the federal government and now even some states. We often consider product safety standards from other countries as they sometimes have a different approach to a similar issue we’re working on.
3. On top of all of these, we also have internal Kolcraft product requirements for critical safety areas that exceed both voluntary and mandatory safety standards. This is to ensure there is no question that our products can pass existing standards with significant margin, to address areas that other standards don’t and to keep babies safe even if the product is possibly being misused or abused.
4. Finally we have our own internal safety and usability reviews throughout the development process which include the use of safety principles and measurement tools developed for infants and children. These involve a lot of “what if’s” as we consider how a child, a sibling or an adult user might use a product.

What is a typical day like for you?

Like many people I have my share of administrative tasks. But even these tasks help build safe products by capturing test data showing the materials we use are safe, meet state and federal requirements and assure our instruction manuals are accurate and as helpful as they can be. I also prepare products or materials to be sent to labs for testing, including preparing the test request and discussing any questions with the lab ahead of time.

Often there is work to be done on proposed product safety standards which may require testing in our lab and discussing design options with the development engineers. I work with the engineers and design teams to determine if a particular design feature would pass a particular safety standard. This is what interests me most, considering the shapes, gaps, softness or hardness, or other characteristics of a design and determine how a child may grab it, bite it, climb on it, bump into it, fall asleep in it, climb on it or any of a number of ways a child may interact with it. And sometimes it can be easier to figure out what a child would do with a product than what a caregiver may do with it.

You are a parent & recently a grandparent. How has being a dad/grandpa affected how you approach working in safety for a baby gear manufacturer?

I will confess, when our first child was born the first few nights I would put all his stuffed toys around the inside of the crib as if they were standing guard. My wife, then a newborn intensive care nurse, quickly set me straight that NOTHING goes in a crib with an infant other than what he must wear. And everyone’s first newborn is a HUGE learning experience. As an engineer, I began observing that this little person lived in a COMPLETELY different world than I did. When he started crawling, I would get down at his level on the floor to see what he saw and to find out what he could reach. It’s a whole other world down there and I’d recommend this exercise to every parent of a newborn. I found it fascinating to imagine living as he did, not knowing “why” about anything, and unable to communicate in a meaningful way. I loved those early years with both my kids and that’s where I really found an affection for babies in general.

Now, being a new grandfather, I want not only to be sure the products my grandson uses are safe, but are used safely too

Now that you are enjoying being a grandparent, what has been the biggest joy of your new role?

I can’t keep it to one thing! It’s the joy of seeing my child now with a child of his own and happily taking on that responsibility. It’s holding my grandson Lucas and getting cuddled up with him with his fuzzy little head next to my cheek and smelling that baby smell. ALL the tension in my body melts away. As we live 6 hours away, it’s getting new photos of him and showing them to everyone I can. It’s planning the things I want to do with him and places I want to take him to as he grows. I can’t wait to find out what it is that he’s going to be good at and where his interests will lie.

Russ at a glance 🙂

If you had a free day without commitments or obligations, how would you spend it? Studying the aircraft at the Oshkosh airshow, the Air Force museum in Dayton, Ohio, and in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry (one of the reason I became an engineer) because of the art inherent in all those aircraft. I love them because of the functional artistry in each one.

What’s one thing that is always in your fridge? Ice cream. A friend once looked in our freezer and announced to everyone that we had the ice cream equivalent of a wet bar.

What is your favorite Kolcraft product? Jeep Strollers in general. I love the look the Jeep brand brings to the line, as well as the play between tender babies and tough Jeep! It’s saying, “I’m a baby, and I’m ready to travel. Anywhere!”

And since he now has “grandson on the brain” 24/7, a little fun mind game with Russ. We asked Russ what is the first word that comes to mind when we say:

Baby – Cuddling

Sleep – Finally!

Morning – Hungry. Hungry! HUNGRY!!! (It’s still only one word.)

Broccoli – Creamed?!?!?

Beverage – MOM!!!

Diapers – Real men change diapers even the nasty ones

Thank you Russ for giving us a little glimpse into the world of Kolcraft safety!