April 5, 2011 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
I have summarized my comments on the pending CPSIA amendment in my two prior blogposts.
March 22, 2011 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
The CPSC has announced hearings on April 5th on the adequacy of TESTING of pool drains under the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGB). This follows on the heels of the recent meeting between CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum and Senators Dick Durbin and Amy Klobuchar. Mr. Durbin requested this meeting urgently in the wake of the disclosure by the Chicago Tribune questioning the adequacy of TESTING of certain VGB drains. No allegations of actual injury have been made yet, to my knowledge. Ms. Klobuchar tagged along, having previously expressed concern about the VGB drain covers. The pending CSPC hearing has been reported by the estimable AboutLawsuits.com blog, an outlet for ambulance chasers.
Ms. Klobuchar is up for reelection in this cycle. Mr. Durbin’s term extends to 2014.
The Chicago Tribune apparently was late to the drain game. I have uncovered a much earlier and more detailed investigation by ABC News that presumably spawned the CPSC investigation of this matter last Fall. ABC asserts that variability in flow data suggests less water flow with certain models than expected. The report was not uncontroversial, however. Flow was not zero, and the manufacturers note that flow depends on the pump used in the test and also the test installation method. An ANSI standard governs pool drains and three specific labs have been cleared to test pursuant to those standards: the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO). Not exactly a rogue’s gallery of shady operators. The alternative testing cited by the Tribune was NOT performed by any of the three authorized labs.
[Remember how darned critical it was to use "CPSC-certified" labs under the CPSIA? It's absolutely essential . . . unless media or regulators want to do something else. Industry can't be trusted to use any old lab, however.]
The CPSC issued subpoenas to these three labs and received back a tidy sum of 17,000 pages of documents. Hey, that’s even more pages than toy safety rules, wow! Anyhow, they have scheduled a show trial to investigate the purportedly nefarious goings-on with these drains.
Perhaps you remember also that the Tribune article was apparently spurred by Paul Pennington, chairman of the “non-profit Pool Safety Council”. According to the Tribune article, “Paul Pennington . . . said he has sent 73 e-mails to CPSC and standards officials, pleading with them to do something about unsafe drain covers since the new law took effect in December 2008.” What a guy that Pennington is, a public-minded private citizen only interested in pool safety. . . . and maybe also (just a little bit) his company, Vac-Alert Industries, which owns patented technology that could supplement or replace the drains at enormous expense to pool owners.
Pennington previously succeeded in inducing a bevvy of left wingers in Congress (all Dems) to stand up for his technology, including Ms. Klobuchar and notably, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL20):
“Once it is considered unblockable, a single main drain no longer is required to have a backup device, such as a safety vacuum release system. The [Congressional] letter writers believe the new definition for unblockable drains leaves pool users vulnerable. ‘A dangerous drain outlet is not safe just because an ‘unblockable’ drain cover is installed,’ Congress member Wasserman Schultz said through her spokesman, Jonathan Beeton. ‘Drain covers can and do come off, or they can be improperly installed. … The VGB Act is very clear that multiple layers of protection are needed.’ The House letter also revisits what has been a hot-button issue throughout the formulation and interpretation of the legislation — whether backup devices should be required on all pools, even those with multiple drains. ‘Backup protection should be installed for every pool or spa, regardless of the number of drain outlets, unless there is no drain, or the drain itself is an unblockable drain,’ Wasserman Schultz said.” [Emphasis added]
The company making the allegedly dangerous pool drain covers noted to the Tribune that you would have to weigh 500 pounds to block its drain. Very few children weigh 500 pounds . . . . In case you are dense, Pennington clarified his message to the Tribune: “Some child is going to die.”
Get it? Ms. Wasserman-Schultz certainly did.
So the big question here is – is this a real safety issue? In the post-CPSIA era, it “looks” like a safety issue. Why? Because the TESTS have been questioned. It’s not about actual risk or incidents that reveal a risk, it’s all about a controversy over a precautionary step in the product cycle, namely testing (the paperwork). The certified lab test by the certified lab is now in question and a publicity event is being staged to “reassure the public”. No injuries have been reported which suggests that the public has little reason to actually be alarmed, but then again, the papers are not in order.
Welcome to the Third World . . . .
The CPSC had to do something, since a leading Democrat Senator demanded ACTION, accompanied to the photo opp by another Democrat Senator up for reelection in a state leaning right after voting left for some time. After all, who put the Dems in charge of this CPSC? Appointments to the Commission come from where? The (Democrat-controlled) Senate. One wonders what the political calculations might have been. What can the Democrats running the CPSC do to help out??? Why not let Ms. Klobuchar save some portion of the populace? If there were a hearing, the Minnesota Senator could take credit and use that on the stump to help retain the seat. The next election will be essential and the Minnesota Senatorial race might affect both the balance of power in Congress as well as Mr. Obama and his chances to retain the Presidency. Gotta stick together. . . .
Does anyone care that no one has been injured by these drains? Does anyone care that the person apparently driving this controversy has a vested interest in stirring up the mud? Of course not. This is not about making pools safe, this is about manufacturing of political headlines.
The politicization of safety under this CPSC should be of great concern to every stakeholder. It is a great distortion of the rules of the safety game and of our legal and regulatory system. Random and excessive cost will punish industry. Worse still, no one will be made any safer. The news cycle will help feed a rapacious media and reward the political power elite, as well.
The only one guaranteed to be a loser is industry. Consumers won’t win, industry is sure to lose and the politicians will win. Whose country is this anyway?
Like I don’t know . . . .
March 10, 2011 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
Dear Mr. Noah,
I read with interest your March 8th article on the CPSC database entitled “Who’s Afraid of the CPSC?” and was disappointed at the inaccuracies in the piece and your blanket dismissal of the business community’s legitimate concerns about the database. The database has devolved into a divisive partisan issue simply because of the utter refusal of consumer groups and their Congressional allies to acknowledge the flaws in the database as well as the law that established it – the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).
I’ll try to address the inaccuracies one-by-one:
Database cost – $3 million or $29 million? The cost figure of $3 million sparked a public dispute between the CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum and her fellow Commissioner Anne Northup at a House hearing last month. In response to Ms. Tenenbaum’s testimony on the cost of the database, Ms. Northup testified that the figure of $3 million had never been shared with the CPSC Commission and that the only database cost figure she was familiar with was $29 million. Interestingly, in April 2010, the Associated Press reported, based on information provided by the CPSC, that the cost of the http://www.saferproducts.gov/ website would be about $20 million, and the CPSC apparently saw no reason to update the media with the good news that the cost had shriveled to $3 million until the February 2011 hearing. . . . Hmmm.
The supposedly noncontroversial CPSIA database. Why didn’t anyone kick up a fuss about the database in 2008? A better question is “Why didn’t Congress listen when the business community protested?” Here’s what I said in a letter to each Congressional conferee dated June 25, 2008: “While we support public notice of recalls, we oppose a national database of reports of injury, illness, death or risk of injury. This forum will not be subject to appropriate findings of fact and thus will be a forum subject to considerable abuse. In a society where tort lawsuits are an ever-present risk for all businesses, a risk that can wipe out a lifetime’s work in a heartbeat, the very real potential for abuse by competitors or mischief-makers far outweighs the public’s ‘right to know’. Once the CPSC has adjudicated a case appropriately, made a reasonable finding of fact and determined the right course of corrective action, public notice would be appropriate.”
I continued to try to make my point to CPSIA Congressional conferees in another letter dated July 21, 2008, just ahead of final consideration of the CPSIA: “CPSC Searchable Database: The well-intentioned idea for complete safety transparency is an open invitation to mischief makers. This is a real threat to our business, as we know from hard experience. The better way is to let the CPSC filter this data first. Please remember, even YouTube will take down videos on request. The proposed law won’t give defenseless toy companies the same recourse as YouTube. Is that an appropriate way to regulate an entire industry?”
It wasn’t only me. Many others in the business community opposed the creation of a database that would contain inaccurate or misleading accusations and complaints. That’s the story of the CPSIA in a nutshell – no one was listening when the law was originally drafted, and now three years later, we are fighting City Hall to restore common sense to federal safety law. Please consider the assertion that consumers really need this database, that it is essential to their children’s safety. In fact, there are many places on the Internet where consumers can and do post their experiences without controversy. Why would a federal database be a greater cause for concern? Well, for one thing, this one is called “SaferProducts.gov” and is sponsored by the federal government. Notwithstanding the lawyer language disclaimers all over the website, it is crystal clear that the public will place a lot of credence in these postings. After all, why would our federal government allow misleading or inaccurate information to be posted on a website called SaferProducts.gov? Ms. Tenenbaum is famous for her defense of “dot gov” websites: “I say don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, except what you read on Web sites that end in dot gov.” [Keynote speech at ICPHSO, February 17, 2010] She may not be the only one who feels this way.
The NHTSA database exists; ergo a CPSIA database is a good idea? The NHTSA database can be distinguished in several important ways: (a) auto accidents are a leading cause of death in this country (consumer products are not), (b) every use of automobiles is known to be hazardous and the risk to human life from reckless use of cars is obviously magnified (not true for consumer products), (c) the auto industry is one of the largest components of our entire economy – we all use cars and many of us owe our livelihoods to automobiles in one way or the other (the average sale of consumer products is far less than a car), and (d) at all levels, the auto industry is highly consolidated among a relatively small number of massive companies that are well-prepared for litigation and regulatory issues (consumer products is not a consolidated market and there are many small companies involved in the trade). I think GM, Ford, Toyota and other multi-billion dollar automakers can handle the burden and risk of a database of consumer deaths and serious injuries from use of their products. Our family business, Learning Resources, on the other hand, ain’t no GM or Toyota. The NHTSA database is NOT an appropriate precedent for consumer products for all of the foregoing reasons.
“One of the ironies in Pompeo and others screaming bloody murder that the database will kill jobs is that most of the appliances likely to get dinged in the database won’t even be American products.” This remark completely misses the point, unfortunately. It is American companies that are going to be hurt by the misinformation in the database, whether those companies are manufacturers, importers, private labelers or retailers. Even worse, thousands of American small businesses are going to be put at risk with no practical means to defend themselves. Is this the “American Way” at work? Who will pay when jobs are lost from companies shifting away from this market or dropping products to limit exposure to liability? This is just going to be another self-inflicted economic injury from misguided and overzealous regulation.
Whether the product is made in China, the U.S. or India, it should not matter from a safety perspective. Companies must ensure that they market safe and appropriate products no matter where the products are made. The reality is that every product can break, and accidents and other bad things happen to good people. The database will be unforgiving and if filled with post-it-and-forget-it garbage, will harm innocent victims – American companies that employ your neighbors and make products for your schools. Unqualified and unverified complaints on SaferProducts.gov WILL induce consumers to take our products away from children – pending a recall that may never be forthcoming . . . because nothing’s wrong.
Chairman Tenenbaum has publicly encouraged consumers to rely on the postings in the database – to draw conclusions on the likelihood of future injury. This is quite alarming, given that Ms. Tenenbaum also testified in a Congressional hearing in February that the agency will likely post unverified or inaccurate information to the database. She admits that this information will be faulty. As she said in testimony, “that’s what the rub is”.
Claims of inaccuracies are low in the soft launch. Given the short life of the database in its test phase and the small population of registered users, reports of few data problems must be greeted with skepticism. Less than 1000 companies have registered with the CPSC for the database, an absurdly small percentage of the number of companies whose products will be in the database. Taking into account that many consumer product companies (such as Disney) will need to register numerous brands, product lines and corporate divisions to ensure that the right data flows to the right paper pusher, the current registrations are even paltrier. If companies are not registered, it is unlikely they are even aware of the soft launch, let alone that there may be inaccurate claims against their products being sponsored by the federal government.
Sadly, we are likely to confirm that the CPSC’s faulty processes are damaging companies only AFTER the damage is done. Let’s not forget that the agency is all set to launch a big “public awareness” campaign for the new database – in other words, the federal government will soon be beating the bushes for consumer complaint submissions. As usual, consumer advocates hype uncertain and unquantifiable losses (someone somewhere might not know about something that COULD have been in the database and later be injured) to distract Congress and the media from the certain losses that will befall companies with damaged reputations. Good for plaintiff lawyers but maybe no one else.
Our small company in Illinois has already experienced a materially inaccurate submission – in the very first “complaint” we faced – and were unable to block it from the database. The anonymous posting concerned a consumer’s “feelings” about one of our products based on a photograph she found on the Internet. Unfortunately, she was clearly wrong and we could prove it. The CPSC wasn’t impressed by our valid CPSIA test reports or photographic evidence of the consumer’s error. I can safely assure you that misleading and inaccurate claims will not only be submitted to the database and but will be posted by the CPSC knowing full well that the claims are untrue. I wrote about my experiences in my blog.
I hope you will reconsider your views on the CPSIA database and weigh more carefully the legitimate concerns of businesses serving the children’s marketplace. We are in this business for a reason – we are devoted to making children’s lives BETTER. The new database will not further our mission, nor will a database filled with garbage benefit consumers. We can do better, and we MUST do better.
Learning Resources, Inc.
Vernon Hills, IL
My blog: http://www.learningresourcesinc.blogspot.com/
Read more here:
CPSIA – My Answer to Slate.com on the CPSIA Database
March 2, 2011 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles, In the News
Senator Jay Rockefeller issued a press release today to slam the Pompeo Amendment de-funding the CPSIA database. Mr. Rockefeller apparently feels that the legitimate concerns of American manufacturers and retailers pale against the need for consumers to make product judgments based on unfiltered hearsay, lies and nonsense:
“’This database will provide important safety information to American consumers,’ Chairman Rockefeller added. ‘A mother will be able to check the CPSC database to see if there are complaints about a crib model. A young couple will be able to see if a certain microwave has a history of safety complaints or if there are complaints about a coffee maker shorting and causing fires. I will fight this ill-informed proposal to undermine such an important consumer protection tool. It’s a bad idea and a bum deal for American consumers.’” [Emphasis added]
Consumers will also be able to decide to stop driving Toyotas because of accusations borne of driver error, or drop DryMax diapers over discredited claims of diaper rash.
True story – last year, stopped at a stop light, my car was gently rear-ended by an elderly lady driving a Toyota. As I approached her car after inspecting the minimal damage, she expressed “shock” at the accident and informed me that it was “sudden acceleration” just like in the newspapers. Who could see such a calamity coming? I noticed a little dog on her lap, jumping up and down, trying to get out of the window to sniff me. Let’s just say that I didn’t immediately side with her “explanation” of the accident. Nice doggy! That incident could have been reported under the current terms of the new database (were it a consumer product). Who would pay the price for that kind of baloney assertion? The manufacturer – with no defenses whatsoever.
Nothing surprises me anymore BUT Senator Rockefeller’s denials fly in the face of House testimony given on February 17th, not to mention the outpouring of testimony, data and legitimate procedural complaints by industry. In the hearing on the 17th, Inez Tenenbaum ADMITTED that the agency will be posting information that may be inaccurate or false. To quote Ms. Tenenbaum, “that’s what the rub is”.
I cannot overstate how frustrating it is (remains) to see Democrats stick to the script notwithstanding data and testimony that directly undercuts their position (and their credibility). Either they think we are morons, or else they must believe the government is something SEPARATE AND ABOVE the people. President Lincoln took a different view, stating in the Gettysburg Address:
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
It is hard for me to believe Mr. Rockefeller believes what Mr. Lincoln instructed on that day. The testimony on the database is not a farce, and our concerns are legitimate. If the concerns for consumers are actually so urgent, why not hit the “pause button” to fix the issues affecting those of us stubbornly trying to provide jobs in this country? Talk to the Pompeo staff – they want to FIX the database, not kill it. Is it really necessary to trash the economy out of pure stubbornness?
The time to genuflect to the holy CPSIA and its misguided almost-unanimous passage through Congress is OVER. Senator Rockefeller, please pay attention to the legitimate needs of those who provide JOBS to your constituents and de-fund the CPSIA database until it can be fixed. You represent the many millions of people who are still working in this country, too. It’s time to remember EVERYBODY’S interest in this matter, not just the left edge of the left wing.
Read more here:
CPSIA – Senate Dems Try to Line up Against Pompeo Amendment
February 25, 2011 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
This panel discusses technical legal issues. You need to hire a lawyer to explore these issues. This blog is not a substitute for qualified legal representation. As previously noted, I am working off my notes, too. Please proceed with due and appropriate caution.
- Eric Stone, K&L Gates LLP
- Georgia Ravitz, Arent Fox LLC
- David Baker, Law Offices of David Baker LLC
Eric Stone: Section 15(a) of CPSA limits the agency’s authority to pursue only items presenting a substantial risk of injury or death. The agency has the right to sue for the same thing under Section 15(c) (mandatory recalls, very rare).
The prior law allowed manufacturers to elect the form of recall program. The CPSIA changed that, and gives the CPSC the authority to make those choices now.
Under Section 15(j), the agency can make a “substantial product hazard” findings across an entire product category, essentially by way of rulemaking. There are certain prerequisites to taking this action. The poster child for this is drawstrings in hoodies.
New violations of law INCLUDES reselling recalled items EVEN IF it was wholly voluntary or initiated entirely by the company without CPSC judgment. That recall is also enforceable in 51 jurisdictions. [Something to think about before you climb on the Fast Track Recall freight train . . . .] False statements or “attempting to mislead” the CPSC has dramatic implications under the new law. Don’t go there . . . .
New penalty factors include a failure of the violator to respond “in a timely or complete fashion to the CPSC’s requests for information and immediate action”. Hmmm. Felony penalties now include asset forfeiture. Yep, that baby’s raising its head again. In theory, the government can take your assets which it believes you have gotten through ill-gotten gains, like your house, your business, your buildings or plant. Hmmm. Love that CPSIA . . . .
- “Substantial Product Hazard” – no definition in the statute or in the legislative history. CPSC and the courts (Mirama Enterprises case) have interpreted it. Factors include death, grievous bodily injury (mutilation, dismemberment, severe burns, injuries likely to require extensive hospitalization). He asserts that MANY of the recalls initiated last year do NOT meet this standard. [RW: Where have I heard that before???] More than 1/3 of recalls do not involve injury AT ALL and many of the others fall far short of “grievous bodily injuries”. DB: Should the CPSC be taking these cases? Should they simply say thanks for the report but no action is required?
- Fast Track versus Slow Track – Express lane to a press release. No “finding” of a defect, possibly helpful in a product liability case. Fast Track cases aren’t always so “fast”. Are there cases in FT that because they have no injuries shouldn’t be there? Is there still a slow track?
- Penalty phase – “NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED.” Every recall files is reviewed by the General Counsel’s office for late reporting, including those without injuries. There are MANY civil penalty cases being prosecuted out there now. [This could be you, baby.] Is the CPSC going after its own constituency? There is a very accomplished ex-U.S. Attorney now on staff at the CPSC (I think he is referring to Mary Murphy).
Last to present is Georgia Ravitz on Section 6(b) (unilateral press releases by the CPSC and their coercive power). Information that manufacturers submit to the CPSC are protected from disclosure to the public. Section 6(b) is the section governing procedures for releasing such information. [This is why Sectionn 6(b) is continually under attack by consumer groups. Their need for information trumps the interest of manufacturers in this confidentiality pledge. . . or at least so they say.]
CPSIA amendments to Section 6(b) gives the agency the right to issue unilateral press releases. The CPSC must “find” that the situation is so urgent that public interest in immediate release of information about a product hazard over the time permitted for review under Section 6(b).
Gives examples of such unilateral releases. The first one related to Simplicity bassinets. [They were already bankrupt and their assets had been auctioned off.] Other examples include the Witco “Recall to Repair” stadium light poles. GR notes that there is some concern that this release evidenced the CPSC acting in a rushed manner.
GR wondered aloud whether the right to preemptively issue press releases is being used “appropriately”. [Georgia is very polite.] She quotes from the legislative record to note that Congress wanted to give the CPSC the ability to inform the public about “hazardous products”. In other words, there must be certainty that the product is actually hazardous. She quoted from a speech from Chairman Tenenbaum where she indicated that the agency will use its powers to get its way, and then quoted from my December 2010 Senate testimony on coercive incidents at the agency. . . .
GR says that if the new powers under 6(b) are being used to coerce agreement, then the provision is being misused or being used in a way not intended by Congress. [I agree.] Coercion stifles meaningful dialogue. She thinks this provision should be used as a last resort and only use when there is no responsible party left (bankruptcy) or when the violator is clearly abusing the process through foot dragging.
GR calls for a return to “the way it used to be”, namely a more open and less coercive deliberation at the agency over disputes. David Baker indicates that he has NEVER overturned a Preliminary Determination letter. [CPSC as judge and jury. That's a tough combo to overcome.]
Eric Stone: How do you overcome the impression that a company is “evil”? Baker – meetings at the agency are much rarer today, most communciations by phone call or email. Leads to more disagreements and makes disputes harder to resolve. Speed leads to this manner of communication. GR: My experience is that expressing a cooperative attitude with CPSC compliance officers will typically be reciprocated.
Gotta go catch my plane . . . .
Read more here:
CPSIA – ICPHSO Update on Recall Law and Procedures
February 24, 2011 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
Next up (after audio problems are “fixed”) is the panel discussion on the Strategic Plan. The panel includes:
- Ken Hinson, Executive Director (moderator)
- Matt Howsare, Chief of Staff to Chairman Tenenbaum
- Cheryl Falvey, General Counsel, CPSC
- Jay Howell, Director, Hazard Identification and Reduction, CPSC
- Richard O’Brien, Director, International Programs and Intergovernmental Affairs, CPSC
- DeWayne Ray, Dep. Dir., Hazard Identification and Reductions, CPSC
- Marc Schoem, Dep. Dir., Office of Compliance and Field Operations, CPSC
- Neal Cohen, Small Business Ombudsman, CPSC
- Scott Wolfson, Dir., Information and Public Affairs, CPSC
Update on rulemaking (CF): Final rules issued in 2010 – crib rule, database rule (launching on March 11), “Children’s Product” rule and the civil penalty rule. Also, the mandatory recall rule, infant walkers and bath seat rules.
Draft rules: bike standard, two 15(j) rules on substantial product hazard list (drawstrings and hair dryers), component rule, 15 Month Rule and bassinets.
Rules coming up: cadmium rule (deferred for six months), toddler beds, lead paint and HD-XRF test methods, bed rails, bunk beds, swings, bicycle rules, testing and certification rules, 15(j) rules, 100 ppm lead standard, and notice of proposed rules on play yards and another “safe sleep” initiative category.
[One thinks that after they regulate bunk beds swings, bikes and so on that all the fun will be gone from childhood, bringing to mind an effective cure for cancer (killing the patient). Well, at least kids can still play with rocks . . . . OMG, rocks have lead in them!]
JH: They intend to double the number of rules in place in 1990. [Nice! More rules, more safety!] Rule-making activity is “abating” but have a growing compliance and enforcement workload. The burden is “shifting” to the compliance team. Working with all stakeholders to make sure they are compliant. [Safety is not the word used but instead "compliant". The notion is that compliance is tantamount to safety. Anyone want to discuss this topic?]
Why did the agency take such a “collaborative” approach to the Strategic Plan? MH – The “comprehensiveness” of the collaborative process was incredible. Went through all sorts of “painstaking” efforts to interview so many people in this room. [Perhaps Matt is referring to Raachel Weintraub - who else needed to be consulted, after all?] The Strategic Plan reflects the “consensus” view of the agency’s strategy. The “collaborative” process was designed to guarantee “buy-in”. The Chairman’s focus under the Strategic Plan is the preventative portion. Spoke of Neal Cohen’s area as a focal point. [There's an insight - we small business people are the problem! Thank heavens Neal Cohen can educate up.]
MH also points to “boots on the ground” in China as another feature of the CPSC’s efforts to prevent disaster. He did not say what kind of boots those might be. Jackboots?
Tell us about small business ombudsing, Neal! NC: Start by listening. There’s a lot of confusion, and there are ways to use the work done by the CPSC “to your favor”. [Hmmm, I'd like to know more about that.] NC: I’m not a policy maker at the agency. [RW - that's the rub, ain't it?] NC: I am spreading the word about the problems within the agency. NC has his own website (www.cpsc.gov/sbo). Putting out “plain English” documents to explain the law and the rules. Three tips on compliance: (a) know your product and your supply chain, (b) proactively educate your suppliers, and (c) don’t “assume”. [This is sound advice. It doesn't protect you from anything, however. Were you to follow Neal's advice, it would count for NOTHING if you get recalled. It should but it won't.]
All kidding aside, people have nice things to say about Neal. What he can achieve remains to be seen, however. I have yet to hear about him making problems go away. Most of the problems people are dealing with are nonsense, so if he could move heaven and earth, I think I would start to hear about him going to bat and getting something done for these beleaguered little companies.
International (RO’B): No sign of harmonization efforts in Mr. O’Brien’s presentation. He is leading the effort to get other world regulators to join us in our safety mania.
Scott Wolfson’s turn – “What about consumers and how do they fit into this?” SW: Pool Safely Initiative shows what we can do if we have money to get our messages out. [How have injury statistics changed, Scott? WS: Won't know for years. . . .] Concerned about “sustainability” ($$$). We’re hitting the road to get the message out. Have built a network to get info out. Working on a new logo.
Scott did not update us on Aston Kutcher. Maybe during the Q&A . . . .
RW: This all sounds good as far as it goes. Of course, he does not discuss the impact of OTHER decisions his office makes, like communication of “hazards” like cords on baby monitors or recalls of Shrek glasses. It’s all well and good that the CPSC has a couple billboards up about pool safety, but what about the mania on lead and their communication of those hazards?
Why does the CPSC need to train manufacturers? Why is it the agency’s role? JH: There are various levels of sophistication out in the marketplace. To drive the prevention effort, need to make sure manufacturers understand the rules of the road. [RW - this is one of my original suggestions for the agency in my first speech on the CPSIA. Failures in outreach is one of the main causes of the storm behind the CPSIA.]
JH: We are focusing our efforts around priorities to increase impact and to avoid dilution.
Jay Howell usually sounds pretty sensible. It would be great if the agency sounded more reasonable more of the time. Perhaps Jay can be an agent in that process.
MS: Trying to reduce the time taken to negotiate recalls. [RW: Two-edged sword here, since the concept of due process is flying out the window with the justification that they are "saving lives".] MS: If you’re right, you’re right – just convince us. Also need to get information out to consumers quicker.
RW: This is agency policy talking, probably not Marc Schoem.
SW: We are going out on all platforms, like Twitter, news media, Facebook, blogs – multiple times. MSNBC is doing a monthly “round-up” of recalls.
There was time for only two questions from the audience. Filibuster! I got to ask one of them. Here’s my question:
“I have testified five times at the CPSC, three times at your invitation. I have repeatedly told you that your policies and the CPSIA together are killing small businesses, killing products and killing markets. Last week, the bicycle industry testified that large bike manufacturers have reduced their product lines and small companies have left the market. Given this testimony, what do you think the agency’s responsibility is to small business and how does the Strategic Plan relate to protecting the right of small business to sell children’s products?”
KH: That’s why we have had such a collaborative process in the Strategic Plan. We need to identify hose issues and figure out a solution. RW: But we’re dying now. KH: We do what we do and violative products have to come off the market.
Read more here:
CPSIA – ICPHSO Update on Strategic Plan Panel Discussion
February 20, 2011 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
On the morning of February 7, my dog brought in the Chicago Tribune and I almost asked him to take it back to the driveway. Blaring at me was the front page headline”Danger lurks in pool, spa drains“. This article was a monster – an entire page (all five columns). Apparently alerted by a “tipster”, a Tribune “investigation” discovered that some pool drains designed to meet the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act (part of the CPSIA) requirements had apparently failed certain lab tests. Notably, there have been no reported injuries as a result of this “defect”, although one manufacturer asked dealers to return stock for replacement “out of an abundance of caution”.
Why does no injuries merit a full page article? The story continues. . . .
Senator Durbin of the great state of Illinois must have read the same article, because he immediately sent a letter to the CPSC alerting them to this hazard. More precisely, alerting them to this article. I am picturing him dropping his toast in horror. What an efficient clipping service. [Two words for the Senator: "Google Alerts".] His obvious and immediate concern are commendable, if you consider reading a newspaper article adequate due diligence for one of our nation’s leaders. Mr. Durbin notes the outcome of his intensive research (reading the newspaper): “This appears to have allowed dangerous drain covers to continue being sold and distributed. The issues highlighted by the Tribune story are very concerning and raise serious questions, not only about dangerous drains but also about accreditation of testing facilities on products generally.”
Next, the Tribune duly reported that Senator Durbin had performed his clipping service for the CPSC, thereby “legitimizing” their investigation. Case closed! The Chicago Tribune to the rescue. . . .
The Tribune must be right if Dick Durbin drops everything to send a letter . . . right?
Ummm, well, let’s take a deeper look. [It's possible Durbin only read the headline. That's enough, right?] The Tribune investigation was started by a “tip”. Someone with an interest in the drains and their effectiveness. Who might that be? I don’t know myself, but there are rumors. We need not speculate on the rumors but we can certainly look at the article itself. In the article, the Tribune quotes an “expert” on pool drains, Paul Pennington. Did you know there was such a thing as a pool drain expert? Mr. Pennington intones: “Some child is going to die.” And he’s an expert! Sounds bad, very bad.
Mr. Pennington is Chairman of the Pool Safety Council. The Tribune notes: “Paul Pennington, chairman of the nonprofit Pool Safety Council, said he has sent 73 e-mails to CPSC and standards officials, pleading with them to do something about unsafe drain covers since the new law took effect in December 2008.” What a guy, tirelessly fighting for innocent children.
But who is the Pool Safety Council? The Tribune explains: “His group is largely funded by the makers of devices that shut off a pool’s pump when a dangerous vacuum forms, like a circuit breaker turns off power when it senses an overload.” In fact, Mr. Pennington is the President of Vac-Alert Industries, Inc. Hey, here’s another “shocker” – Vac-Alert has patents on vacuum alerts used in pools (patent no. 6,591,863 and 5,991,939).
Conflict of interest? Nah! The Tribune again: “Why did Pennington think the covers were dangerous? As soon as the new drain covers hit the market in 2008, pool owners who had vacuum-release devices complained that their pumps were turning off after they installed the covers. Pennington, who owns a stake in a vacuum-release system company, investigated and concluded that the new covers were allowing the hazardous suction forces they were supposed to prevent. Pennington said his concerns were ignored by the federal government and by the standards committee that writes the testing rules for the drain covers. That committee consists mostly of people who work in the pool and spa business.”
Hmmm. So you have a newspaper trying to sell papers by “saving” the populace, an entrepreneur who is leading the “fight” over pool drains with patented technology ready to replace those drains, an ambitious local politician interested in making headlines while supporting the hometown paper that helped elect him, and what do you get? The feeding frenzy that gave birth to the CPSIA. Everyone’s a winner . . . except for the businesses and markets caught in the middle.
Makes you anxious to vote again, doesn’t it?
February 9, 2011 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
It was about one year ago when the Federal government went into overdrive in trashing Toyota, a widely admired and reputable company, for its apparently defective automotive accelerator mechanism. I say “apparently” because our fearless leaders in government reached that conclusion that Toyotas were defective based on hasty conclusions and a document review . . . but no scientific research. This is hardly a shock. I have previously observed that manufacturing a dangerous public enemy in an election year is quite helpful to members of Congress – after all, we need to be reminded who’s working so hard to save us.
A quick reminder: the CPSIA was passed in August 2008. Oh my gosh, that’s right before a national election!
The drive to jump on board and bash Toyota was overwhelming. Recalling Joe Biden’s helpful 2009 advice to not fly or take the subway because of a swine flu outbreak, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood warned Americans to stop driving Toyotas in a Congressional hearing last year. You can’t be TOO safe! Think of the impact on the company and its brand. Yesterday he announced Toyotas “are safe to drive“. Oops. . . .
Not to be outdone, Rep. Henry Waxman, the man principally responsible for being subject to the CPSIA without amendment now almost three years later, torched the company for its supposed misdeeds in his opening statement at his committee’s hearing on February 23, 2010. What did Toyota do wrong? Well, he says the “defect” in their cars had to be in the newfangled electronics in the accelerator mechanism. Callous Toyota didn’t look at the electronics, Mr. Waxman contends. Instead, he said “There is no evidence that Toyota . . . took a serious look at the possibility that electronics defects could be causing the problem . . . . Toyota had three responses: first, blame the driver; second, blame the floor mat; third, blame a sticky gas pedal. And NHTSA, without doing any meaningful independent review, accepted Toyota’s recommendations.”
Clearly NHTSA needed David Strickland to fix everything and make us all so safe – he did such a great job on the CPSIA!
Ironically, Mr. Waxman was pretty clairvoyant that day. NHTSA (under David Strickland’s guidance) concluded yesterday that Toyota’s purported three “responses” were the right explanations for the sudden acceleration problem. See the WSJ article linked above. Hmmm. Mr. Waxman carried on to warn Toyota that “safety must start coming first” (implying that Mr. Waxman’s judgment on auto safety is superior to Toyota’s) and concluded that “ultimately . . . addressing this problem will require legislation.”
I feel another CPSIA flashback coming on . . . .
The Toyota feeding frenzy even swept up our own Chairman Tenenbaum who couldn’t resist pointing the finger, too: “A new Commission that has new powers – and we are not afraid to use them. If you resist our efforts to recall children’s products, be forewarned, this Commission stands ready to be creative in the use of our enforcement authorities. As the Toyota experience has shown in recent weeks, this government will not allow for delay in recalling dangerous products.” No delay whatsoever – even to figure out if they are actually dangerous! Didn’t McDonald’s recall safe Shrek glasses “out of an abundance of caution” at the request of the CPSC? Toyota was quite inspiring, I guess.
To put a bow on the conclusion of this comedy of errors, Public Citizen (the consumer group purporting to “protect” you in the CPSIA saga, too) asserts that the government’s Toyota study is not “convincing”. I have previously explained why folks like Public Citizen will NEVER give up the ghost here. There is probably nothing that could convince them that they were wrong in the first place. After all, that’s pretty de-legitimizing. We certainly can’t have that! Think AAP on lead.
Blamestorming in Congress, jumping to conclusions based on a media frenzy, little hard information and a lot of political drum banging? Brandishing the blunt force of excessive government power to beat a company senseless? Toyota is one of the largest companies in the world. Imagine if this excessive power were taken against a small business? Imagine . . . .
As I said last year, the Toyota feeding frenzy is what we have been subject to, now for three years, in the sad CPSIA debacle. At a Congressional hearing next week when I may face the same legislators who took Toyota down – for no good reason – I must again defend our right to conduct business responsibly without the intrusion of government into everything we do. Having written a law to keep children “safe”, Congress is quite reluctant to admit their error and admit that we can keep kids safe without being told how to do it. The basic reason is that they can’t acknowledge that kids weren’t at risk from lead BEFORE the law. It’s easier for them to ruin our businesses than to do the right thing.
Just to be clear, it is absolutely irrefutably clear that the agents for change here are the Republicans and the opponents to remaking the CPSIA into something workable and sensible are the Democrats. As I have stated before, Democrats in the Senate are still working to block change. They are like Public Citizen – NO possible data can convince them.
Will Congress ever admit that the definition of Children’s Product is too broad, that the scope of ages covered by the CPSIA is damaging to our markets, that we are over-regulating extremely minor or unreal risks while ignoring big risks (thereby actually making children LESS safe), that the rising (risen?) specter of liability is having a very negative effect on the conduct of business, that the encouragement of rabid enforcement at the CPSC has created an environment of mindless and uncompromising rule following (creating many starkly unfair results and ruining the reputation of a proud agency accustomed to doing good), and so on? That’s a good question.
Tune in next week and see for yourself!
Read more here:
CPSIA – What Can We Learn From the Toyota Debacle?
January 7, 2011 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
STATEMENT OF RICHARD WOLDENBERG
Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection
Committee on Energy and Commerce
United States House of Representatives
January 6, 2011
Thank you for the opportunity to present my views today. My name is Richard Woldenberg. I am Chairman of Learning Resources, Inc., a Vernon Hills, Illinois-based manufacturer of educational materials.
Despite its lofty goals, the CPSIA has had little impact on safety while severely disrupting markets and sharply raising operating costs. I have previously testified that our testing costs rose 8 times between 2006 and 2009 and are expected to multiply again. We have also cut back on our marketing and sales expenses to pay for the increase in our QC department from one to five.
This so-called “toy law” was designed to solve a problem that frankly didn’t exist. In 2007/8, there were some notorious toy recalls for lead-in-paint violations – yet there were almost no injuries. The CPSIA was an almost hysterical over-reaction to a simple compliance issue concerning a small number of companies.
Ironically, the CPSIA has already “cured” the compliance problem in the toy industry despite the glacial pace of implementation. Today, 30 months after passage of the law, lead-in-substrate testing is still not mandatory – yet toy recalls have fallen dramatically. How did it happen? I believe publicity, industry outreach and the commitment of new resources by industry improved compliance. Revised lead standards had NOTHING to do with it.
The CPSIA is causing a lasting trauma in our market. Small businesses left the market in droves. For instance, we decided not to enter the toddler market with new educational products. While foregone business opportunities don’t produce a pile of bodies, the economic damage is still severe. In an efficient marketplace, capital is redeployed and products and companies just move elsewhere. We need to fix this problem pronto.
The solution to the CPSIA problem lies in fixing the four horsemen of this apocalypse: (a) cost, (b) complexity, (c) risk and (d) government intrusion.
The worst CPSIA cost impact relates to needless and repetitive testing. Mandatory testing for everything but lead-in-paint should be dropped. An amended CPSIA should apply ONLY to those products specifically identified as presenting a substantial risk of injury or death from lead or lead-in-paint at the specified mandatory standards. This will sensibly knock out the vast majority of products subject to this law. The CPSC Commission should be mandated by law to rigorously apply this rule – the agency should bear the burden of proof.
The excesses of the current “precautionary principle” era cannot be allowed to continue. Lax application of the “substantial product hazard” law has created real doubt about the meaning of our safety laws. Strict adherence to this rule should be mandated by Congress to eliminate the many artificial crises spawned by the CPSIA. Discretion to set age limits, the applicability of the phthalates ban, tracking labels and the reduction of the lead standards should be subject to the same rigorous rule.
To preserve the competitiveness of American schools, special exemptions must be made for educational products (particularly science and special needs items).
The phthalates ban should be limited to products for children three and under to sharply reduce CPSIA compliance costs. This is a reasonable compromise pending resolution of any remaining doubts over the safety of these specific chemicals.
Complexity must be sharply reduced. The old rules were a manageable 100 pages or so but now top 3000 pages and growing. We need to return to a “keep it simple” set of rules with limited reporting requirements. Congress or the CPSC must choose top priorities, and promulgate limited and focused rules. I can assure you that no one understands the moving target of CPSC rules anymore. This MUST be remedied in any amendment of the CPSIA.
Needless bureaucracy should be eliminated, such as CPSC certification of labs, including in-house labs. Fraud and/or incompetence in testing have always been rare. Customs involvement in the CPSC supply chain should be shaped by a cost-benefit basis. Dealing with product safety like the prevention of terrorism is absurdly disproportionate to the risk and far too costly.
Implementation of the public database should be delayed until reasonable protections of due process rights of manufacturers are in place. Congress never intended to create an indistinguishable mixed bag of truths, half-truths and falsehoods – that’s what we have the Internet for. The adopted “anything goes” rules went way too far, and will accelerate market exits.
Government intrusion and excessive government power casts a pall over the children’s product market now. Open-ended penalty provisions allow for emotional and disproportionate punishments. The Commission has also asserted unprecedented powers to retroactively ban products and to mandate their replacement. Clearly, strict procedural controls and protections are missing. The era of “death penalties” without oversight must end.
Some CPSIA fixes are not legislative. Among other things, the CPSC needs to embrace industry as its partner in safety. As the past two years demonstrates, engaging industry is the key to long term improvements in safety.
Notwithstanding the media’s misrepresentation of our industry, we have an enviable record of safety. This is not a case of bad people, venal companies or lazy regulators. The problem is one of misapplied resources and ineffective regulatory strategy. The solution doesn’t require more money or more chest thumping. A well-designed law, combined with good education and industry outreach practices, will create the safer market that everyone wants.
Thank you for considering my views today. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Read more here:
CPSIA – My Remarks at House Working Session on CPSIA
December 7, 2010 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
Rep. Fred Upton has apparently won steering committee endorsement as Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. This means he will in all likelihood be appointed as Chairman tomorrow, succeeding Henry Waxman in the next Congress. While Upton’s ascendancy comes in a victory over Rep. Joe Barton, a longtime and ardent critic of the CPSIA, it is not thought to reflect any reduction of support among Republicans for a significant CPSIA amendment.
Hope springs eternal. Help may finally be on the way!