Consumer Product Safety Commission: Action Needed to Strengthen Identification of Potentially Unsafe Products

GAO-12-30 October 12, 2011

Summary

In the wake of increased product recalls in 2007-2008, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). Among other things, CPSIA requires the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to establish a database on the safety of consumer products that is publicly available, searchable, and accessible through the CPSC Web site. In response, CPSC launched SaferProducts.gov in March 2011. The Department of Defense and Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 requires GAO to report on the data collected by CPSC in its safety information database. This report examines (1) the information required for submitting a report of harm to SaferProducts.gov, (2) the information used to identify the product and to allow CPSC to review manufacturer claims of material inaccuracy in a report of harm, and (3) the length of time CPSC takes to review a manufacturer’s claim that a report contains materially inaccurate information. To do this work, GAO analyzed agency data, regulations, and CPSC program documentation and interviewed CPSC staff and various industry and consumer representatives.

To be eligible for publication on SaferProducts.gov, reports of harm involving a consumer product must contain several types of information, such as descriptions of the product and the associated harm. Reports may be submitted by consumers, government agencies, and health care professionals, among others. GAO’s analysis of CPSC data as of July 7, 2011, showed that 38 percent of the 5,464 reports submitted to CPSC contained information that CPSIA requires for publication. Of these reports, 1,847 were published on SaferProducts.gov. Although not required, many submitters appear to have firsthand knowledge of the product–37 percent of published reports stated that the submitter was also the victim, and 24 percent stated that the victim was the child, spouse, parent, or other relative of the submitter. Also, most submitters provided their optional consent for CPSC to release their contact information to the manufacturer. Numeric information, such as a model number or serial number, can be helpful in identifying potentially unsafe products. However, this information is optional rather than required in a report of harm. Instead, submitters must only include a word or phrase sufficient to distinguish the product as one within CPSC’s jurisdiction. All manufacturers we spoke with considered the required information insufficient for identifying products in a report of harm. On August 12, 2011, a new law was signed containing a requirement for CPSC to attempt to obtain the model number or serial number, or a photograph of the product, from submitters who did not provide this information in a report of harm. To meet this requirement, CPSC must identify all reports of harm that do not contain either a model number or a serial number. However, CPSC does not currently analyze its data to identify reports of harm that contain this numeric information. Instead, its method of analysis combines numeric identifiers–model numbers or serial numbers–and less precise text entries, such as product descriptions or names. Furthermore, some submitters include model numbers and serial numbers in other database fields that CPSC does not include in its analysis. Unless CPSC strengthens its analytic methods to identify model numbers or serial numbers in a report of harm, it will likely not be able to identify all reports that require the agency to contact the submitter for more product information because it does not track all reports of harm missing such information. Prior to recent amendments to CPSIA, CPSC had 10 business days from its transmission of a report to the manufacturer in which to publish a report of harm (after the amendments, CPSC has up to 5 additional business days to publish a report when a claim of materially inaccurate information is made or when a report does not contain a model number or serial number). Most reports to which manufacturers responded that were published met the 10-day time frame. Of the 1,085 published reports of harm to which companies responded, 1,020 (94 percent) were published within 10 business days after CPSC notified the company that the report had been submitted. CPSC published 160 reports with claims of materially inaccurate information, and, of these reports, most were resolved and published within 10 business days. CPSC plans to conduct outreach to increase the number of manufacturers registered to receive electronic notifications to yield a more rapid response to its notifications. To effectively implement the recent amendments to CPSIA, GAO recommends that CPSC strengthen the analytic methods used to identify product information in a report of harm. CPSC agreed with GAO’s recommendation. The minority commissioners also raised a number of concerns about the accuracy and usefulness of the new database.

 

Is Your Business Registered with SaferProducts.gov?

Posted By: Bill Jacoby on October 11,2011

When problems become complaints:
In every potentially damaging customer service interaction, there is a pivotal point. And this point is not just the initial problem or incident reporting; it is the manufacturer’s or distributors reaction to the fraught interaction your customer experiences.Your employee’s response to the customers inquiry or complaint now needs to take into consideration the pace at which the angry customer now escalates the problem into a formal complaint on the safer products.gov website.

Take a look on the saferproducts.gov website and you will see several reports filed by consumers that were a result of not getting a satisfactory or timely response from the manufacturer. Some of them were not happy with the response given and others never even received a reply or call that was promised.Some of the reports submitted have the box checked No when asked if they plan to contact the manufacturer.

If you care about your brand equity and consumer confidence, you must register your business with Safer Products.gov so that you can be alerted when an incident is filed. Some of the key benefits of registration are:

  • Maximizes your time to review and respond to Reports before the 10-business day Report publication date.
  • Notification of Reports involving your products sent to you quickly and securely through e-mail.
  • Convenient and secure online account to provide comments on Reports and to communicate with CPSC.
  • Accounts can be set up with multiple users, with different permission settings for each user, to provide maximum flexibility.

Registration also provides you with a way to make a claim that a report contains materially inaccurate information . This information can be false and misleading and is so substantial as to affect a reasonable consumer’s decision making about your product. So if you care about your brand, take a look at your company’s incident reporting and escalation process and definitely  register your business so you can take a proactive approach when possible. You should always post a comment in response to a report. This is not  brand protection and compliance, just good business.

Bill Jacoby is the principal at Jacoby Solutions which has developed a CPSIA Operational Readiness Audit to help companies identify risk and improve their company’s business operations.

CPSC seeks feedback on manufacturer small batch testing

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is seeking feedback from small batch manufacturers about the feasibility of alternative product safety testing requirements.

Under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) small-batch producers were required to meet the same third party testing requirements and certification as manufacturers of mass produced goods.

A so-called fix proposes that under certain circumstances, small-batch manufacturers – producing up to 7,500 similar units in a calendar year with gross revenues of up to $1m – may use alternative testing requirements.

If, however, the CPSC determines that no alternative testing requirement is available or economically practicable, it will exempt eligible small batch manufacturers from third party testing requirements.

A public hearing is scheduled for 26 October to receive views from all interested parties about whether such alternative testing requirements are available or economically practicable or, in the absence of economically practicable alternatives, whether an exemption from third party testing is appropriate.

Click here for Details and online registration for Public Hearing on October 26, 2011.

JPMA Issues Statement Regarding Proposed Crib Bumper Regulations in Maryland

September 27, 2011

JPMA, an association dedicated to promoting the safe selection and use of juvenile products, is urging the State of Maryland to adopt regulations consistent with the use of safe, traditional, non-pillow like crib bumper pads.

JPMA is also extremely concerned about the unintended consequences of regulations that restrict products specifically designed for crib use.

“It is very risky behavior to use makeshift bumper pads,” said Michael Dwyer, CAE Executive Director of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. “Our fear is that the elimination of bumpers from the marketplace will encourage parents to use towels, adult blankets or pillows as a protective barrier from the hard wooden surface of the crib slats. Instead, the state of  Maryland should adopt safety regulations developed as a result of the ASTM standard setting process, and join JPMA in educating parents on the safe use of traditional bumper pads.”

JPMA continues to promote the need for information and education on safe sleep practices.  JPMA has provided an informational flyer on the safe use of traditional bumper pads which is available for download from www.cribsafety.org , JPMA’s website dedicated to communicating safe sleep practices.

JPMA also has ongoing concern for cities and states that are passing legislation that causes additional confusion for parents and caregivers and is urging Maryland to consider all scientific data on crib bumper pad use.

Properly designed crib bumper pads, when used correctly, can help prevent limb entrapment and head injuries. In 2011, JPMA commissioned a third party review of previous studies of crib bumper pads. Outcomes of the studies that were reviewed by Exponent, a leading engineering and scientific consulting firm providing solutions to complex technical problems, found that there were methodological problems that were apparent in the criteria used to select the incidents included for analysis and in the analytical treatment of other potential contributors.

“JPMA remains fully supportive of safe sleep education and standard development,” said Dwyer. “We are encouraging the state of Marylandto rely on the scientific data on crib bumper pads and adopt the ASTM standard in the state. We believe parents have a right to choose the products they use to care for their baby.”

 

CPSC Small Biz Ombudsman asks industry for more data!

 

Louisville —  I attended the opening session with about 70 industry members gathered in a meeting room on Saturday at the ABC Expo to hear an open talk from the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Small Business Ombudsman, Neal Cohen, who outlined the recent and upcoming regulatory changes to our industry as a result of the recently passed law H.R. 2715.
H.R. 2715 is designed to address some of the original content in the Consumer Product Safety Information Act of 2008, including details on lead limits, phthalates, third-party testing and small batch manufacturers.
“It was a very compromised bill – I don’t think anyone was thrilled with it on either side,” said Cohen.
Cohen explained that the conversation is very much in process about how to reduce third party testing costs for manufacturers, and the CPSC is seeking public comment on the issue.

“We need data, data, data, and we need industry knowledge as well,” he said.
Cohen urged industry members to be aware of several upcoming key dates, and reminded audience members that even if they can’t be in Washington, sessions are webcast.
September 28th there is a Commission meeting debating the testing and certification rules.
“If you’re manufacturing products, you need to be familiar with it,” said Cohen.
October 6th there is a round table even with industry to talk about lead and phthalates.
October 26th there is a hearing on alternative testing for small batch manufacturers.
And January 1, 2012 is the date when enforced testing and certification begins; for lead testing, it will be for products manufactured after August 14, 2011, and for phthalates it will be for products manufactured after December 31, 2011.
“(The CPSIA) fundamentally changed the landscape of this industry,” said Cohen. “But at the end of the day, we enforce the laws given to us by Congress.”