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CPSIA – Unpublished Article Highlights CPSIA Benefits Felt by Testing Companies

Intertek Presses Toy Rules as U.S. Scrutiny Aids Testing Firms

2011-02-02 05:00:02.1 GMT

By Mark Drajem

Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) — When the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission last May proposed rules on how toymakers must test their products, Toys R Us Inc., Lego A/S and retail groups urged
the regulators to ease off.

One company took a different tack.

London-based Intertek Group Plc, the world’s largest consumer-goods testing company, argued that the rules should be expanded to require manufacturers to submit to further “engineering, chemical and biological analysis,” to ensure that the design of any toy is safe.

The filing demonstrates one consequence of increased government scrutiny of product safety: For Intertek and other testing companies such as Bureau Veritas SA and SGS SA the very rules that manufacturers and retailers say burden them with undue costs and paperwork mean more business.

“It’s just another opportunity to test,” said Larry Lynn, compliance manager at Learning Resources Inc., a Vernon Hills, Illinois-based maker of educational toys such as the Zoomy handheld microscope. The company estimates its testing costs jumped 10-fold since 2006.

“All the labs have seen a significant increase in the business because of the requirements of the CPSC,” said Rick Locker, a lawyer for the Toy Industry Association in New York. In the first months after a previous law went into effect in 2009, testing costs tripled, he said. While the expenses and
delays have receded, pending new requirements mean “you could see that issue come back again,” he said in an interview.

Back to Edison

Intertek, which traces its corporate heritage to Thomas Edison’s Lamp Testing Bureau, has more than 1,000 labs in 100 countries. In addition to analyzing consumer products such as apparel and toys, it tests or certifies chemicals, foods and minerals. It earned 103.7 million pounds ($167.3 million) on revenue of 652.6 million pounds in the first half of 2010, its most recent published results.

The U.S. testing requirements followed a rash of recalls in 2007 of Chinese-made toys, sold by companies such as Mattel Inc., which were found to contain lead paint. In response, Congress passed legislation in 2008 mandating that all toymakers curb lead and other harmful materials in their products and redouble testing.

While the rules apply to toys sold in the U.S., much of the testing takes place in China and Hong Kong, where many U.S. toys are made. The U.S. imported $25 billion in toys from China in 2009, making it the third-largest category of imports from the country, behind computers and household goods such as clocks.

European Testers

The largest consumer-testing companies are based in Europe. Among the bigger ones in the U.S. are Northbrook, Illinois-based Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and Consumer Testing Laboratories
Inc. in Bentonville, Arkansas. Both are closely held.

Intertek, Bureau Veritas and SGS, the world’s three largest testing companies, all say their revenue jumped after the new toy requirements began in January 2009. Intertek’s revenue from consumer-goods testing in the first six months of that year climbed more than 20 percent, almost double the overall company revenue growth, to 162.5 million pounds.

Its profit margin in consumer products was 33 percent, double that of the company as a whole. Intertek has more than doubled in London trading since the U.S. law took effect, and has risen 45 percent in the past 12 months.

Both Bureau Veritas, based in Neuilly-sur-Seine near Paris, and Geneva-based SGS are bigger than Intertek in revenue from all testing. Bureau Veritas shares have increased 54 percent in the last year. SGS, the world’s biggest overall product inspector, is up 15 percent.

Growth Ahead

While Intertek’s consumer-testing revenue fell 0.4 percent to 161.9 million pounds in the first half of 2010, the company predicts a U.S. requirement that a government-certified, outside testing company examine each children’s product will boost profits again over the next two years.

The new U.S. rule, as well as a European Union initiative in toy safety, “present further opportunities for growth in 2011 and 2012,” the company said in a presentation to investors in August. The Consumer Product Safety Commission voted yesterday to delay the next round of testing requirements until 2012 from later this year as initially planned.

Anticipating an increased need for testing, Intertek has introduced computer software for sale to manufacturers so they can meet the analytical and paperwork requirements the consumer-safety agency is scheduled to implement.

Intertek also is making sure its voice is heard in Washington. It hired former CPSC chief of staff Joseph Mohorovic as a vice president, and paid the firm of former CPSC chairman Hal Stratton $240,000 last year to lobby on its behalf, according to government records.

No Regrets

Gene Rider, president of Oak Brook, Illinois-based Intertek Consumer Goods in North America, said a combination of increased consumer awareness and growing global outsourcing is sparking
demand for Intertek’s testing services.

“One of the misconceptions is that regulation drives our revenues,” Rider said in an interview. “All the rules are asking manufacturers to do is to demonstrate good manufacturing practice.”

As for its petition to the CPSC, Rider said he has no regrets. Most recalls are caused by design flaws, not faulty materials such as lead paint, and those won’t be found without new government requirements, he said.

“It’s all about designing the product to avoid injuries or fatalities,” Rider said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at +1-202-624-1964 or mdrajem@bloomberg.net.

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CPSIA – Unpublished Article Highlights CPSIA Benefits Felt by Testing Companies

CPSIA – Certainty, CPSIA-style

These days, you can count on the CPSC to hold against regulated companies, particularly in response to media inquiries. Facts are a secondary consideration. The WORST thing that could happen to you or your product is if a reporter calls the CPSC. You’re cooked – safety administration these days is some sort of reality show, and everything’s dangerous if a reporter is sniffing around.

And three years later, they’ll hit you with a big penalty.

This week’s crisis is the “discovery” by the Associated Press that some enamels used on glassware (the outside) have lead or cadmium bound in. The recall fo 12 million acknowledged safe Shrek glasses was the first indicator that we faced a “crisis”.

Heavy metal use in glassware enamel is not exactly big news, nor a particular cause for concern (except for enterprising and paranoid reporters). Consider for example that our ever-wise Congress EXEMPTED these coatings years ago from lead regulation (“[The lead paint ban] does not include printing inks or those materials which actually become a part of the substrate, such as the pigment in a plastic article, or those materials which are actually bonded to the substrate, such as by electroplating or ceramic glazing.” 16 CFR 1303.2(b)(1)). [You may also be interested to see all the other exemptions to the lead paint ban, in 16 CFR 1303.3.]

When confronted with the “shocking” news that other coated glasses besides Shrek had lead or cadmium in the enamels, the CPSC withered. They caved, and labeled these glasses (all very likely safe but featuring Super Hero images and the like) as “Children’s Products”. Here’s a video of the reporter enjoying his 15 minutes of fame playing off the Shrek scare. He concedes that even HE thinks the risk is “low”. No matter, it’s good to stir up the mud. AP needs all the coverage it can get these days.

I am so happy we are being ruled by junk scientists now.

And the CPSC’s determination that these products are “Children’s Products” means they are subject to CPSIA regulation. This empowers the agency to recall them “out of an abundance of caution” and to impose penalties for failures to comply with the myriad rules of the CPSIA. No matter that this classification was hardly clear previously. Hmmm. Let’s see how the mishmash interpretative rule on “Children’s Products” makes this determination “clear”.

I say “mishmash” because I defy you to figure this out for yourself by reading all the pages they threw at us. In fact, the latest “interpretation” in the so-called Final Rule does NOT seem to override the interpretive dicta in the prior version. It merely comments on the public comments that the agency by-and-large utterly ignored. The CPSC never bothers to reissue or conform past rules or interpretations. That’s a job for us hobbyists.

In any event, it so happens that I addressed this very issue in my comment letter on the rule. The following section comes from the never-overwritten text accompanying the prior version of the rule. Consider this advice given to industry:

“The more of these types of characteristics that a product has, the greater the likelihood that the product is a children’s product. For example, a pen which is decorated or whose advertising and marketing features themes that correspond to obvious children’s interests, e.g., preschool characters, will greatly influence the purchase for preschool children. However, there also are ‘novelty’ pens that could appeal to children 12 years of age or younger as well as older children and adults; such novelty pens would not be considered to be primarily intended for children. For example, a simple ball point stick pen bearing an elementary school’s name, without any other decorations, would likely appeal to anyone (i.e. students, teachers, parents) connected with the school. A pen with a silly head on the top, not associated with any particular mass media (and not sold in toy stores), may have just as much appeal to adults as it would to children. Pens with puzzle features that allow the user to take them apart and reconfigure the design also are likely to appeal to children and adults alike, and thus, are not likely to be considered children’s products because they are not primarily intended for children.”

Clear as mud.

Remember, we in industry must interpret this gobbledygook and run our businesses. Perhaps even more difficult is to use “rules” like this in agreement with your dealers. Basically, since the rules make no sense, it is not possible to agree with many or sometimes ANY of your customers. Welcome to my world.

It is extremely unfortunate that in the wake of conceding the safety of the Shrek glassware, and even worse, in the face of explicit exemptions of glazings in the FHSA, the CPSC would proceed to declare these items within the scope of its regulations, thus exposing yet another group of innocent companies to huge unexpected and unjustified losses. Brands will be further damaged, consumer confidence dented, and no doubt, sales of children’s products will be bruised in the prime selling season. Good going, government!

This agency seems downright dense about the impact of its activities. For myself, this act proves that the CPSC cannot be trusted, has lost any sense of what constitutes safe or unsafe, and is dangerously reactive (especially in response to members of Congress and members of the press). For regulated companies, this is the worst of times – we face a looney regulator who is absolutely devoid of self-discipline or judgment. They administer a kind of “hang-’em-high” justice. If you are ever in the gray area with the CPSC, you can count on them to push you over the edge. Their rationale – you have to err on the side of safety even if you have no reasonable basis to suspect that any safety issues existed.

Okay, I get it. But when the regulator has no idea where “safety” is, erring on the side of safety means pleasing reporters who are trying to sell papers. Reporters sell fear – that’s the only way to sell papers these days. Connect the dots – random losses are coming to all of us.

Selling children’s products is for crazy people. I cannot believe the damage being inflicted by these people.

The database gets approved tomorrow. Enjoy the ride!

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CPSIA – Certainty, CPSIA-style

CPSIA – More Analysis of Damaging Foreign Mfr Accountability Legislation

One additional point about the design of the extremely ill-conceived Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act of 2010: the “minimum amount” hurdle that triggers the requirement to register for service of process is NOT set by the law. The different agencies have to set it for the products they regulate.

The draft legislation provides the following mechanism for establishing this limit:

“(4) APPLICABILITY — (A) IN GENERAL.—Paragraph (1) applies only with respect to a foreign manufacturer or producer that exceeds minimum requirements established by the head of the applicable agency under this section. (B) FACTORS.—In determining the minimum requirements for application of paragraph (1) to a foreign manufacturer or producer, the head of the applicable agency shall, at a minimum, consider the following: (i) The value of all covered products imported from the manufacturer or producer in a calendar year. (ii) The quantity of all covered products imported from the manufacturer or producer in a calendar year. (iii) The frequency of importation from the manufacturer or producer in a calendar year.”

So for those of us suffering under the CPSIA, this legislation tenders some discretion to the CPSC on how penal this provision will be. Interesting, isn’t it, that Congress will allow the CPSC to set this threshold without oversight but won’t let them assess the risk of pens, rhinestones, science kits or ATVs? Anyhow, given the current practice of the CPSC to apply strict liability standards to so many things, leading to recalls of (for instance) 40 inflatable toy baseball bats for violative phthalate levels (the one-and-only recall for phthalates in U.S. history) and the pending “15 Month Rule” which creates an unbearably expensive and risk-averse scheme of safety compliance, I presume that the CPSC will set these thresholds very low. After all, how else can American consumers sleep well at night???

And consider how this rule might be applied. To determine whether you are above or below the threshold, you must disclose your revenues and volumes to the government for their scrutiny and approval. This is remarkably invasive and is reason enough for many factories to concentrate on sales to South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Who needs this nonsense?

[And if registration is unavoidable, the registration process itself is also tedious and requires the disgorgement of lots of detailed information - which not only will discourage participation but also sets up the foreign manufacturers for liability to the government for "false" statements if they make errors. We have 1500 catalog items, so I can identify with the problems that this kind of requirement might create. It's nothing more than a bureaucratic set-up for regulators to accumulate causes of action to use as they see fit.]

If you think I am delusional or just tend to see the world darkly, please ask yourself – would YOU disclose ANY of this information to the government of Germany? China? Slovakia? Venezuela? Do you trust foreign governments? The confidentiality of their records? The likelihood that this information will not come back to bite you? Do you expect to get a fair shake in a foreign jurisdiction, particularly in a dispute with a local company? Do you think your suppliers will serve you better if you ask them to do this? Are you important enough to influence your suppliers or would they simply throw you overboard? What will this mean to your business – even if foreign governments refrain from retaliation (unlikely)?

This is yet more evidence of the shamefully low quality work of this Congress and its absolute ignorance of the real world. Think of the pending Waxman Amendment which posits that alternative testing methods can be used by small (micro) businesses to avoid certain testing requirements under the CPSIA. Of course, no such testing methods exist but that’s just a trivial detail, right? Or the fact that in order to qualify for this “relief” under that legislation, each of these tiny businesses must disclose their financial records to Mother Government to confirm their eligibility for relief. Sounds REALLY workable, right? It does, if you have never worked for a company and have been closeted in the federal government for long enough.

Another sad, sorry low point for the worst Congress in history. Well, it’s nice to be distinguished in SOME way, right???

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CPSIA – More Analysis of Damaging Foreign Mfr Accountability Legislation

CPSIA – Numbers Don’t Lie (Update No. 1)

I have received a lot of feedback on my data on injuries from lead since I published it on Thursday. Some of the comments deserve further exploration.

a. Did anyone have this data previously? I think the answer is NO. I have heard from inside the CPSC that this kind of data analysis is not being done. The data is nowhere to be found, except here. Recent testimony by consumer advocates and Congressional zealots is strangely bereft of details, just long on invective. Don’t we deserve better?

The hysteria over lead-in-paint recalls, combined with other recalls that were unrelated created such a lynch mob atmosphere in Congress that the only data that registered was data that supported the mob’s POV. The actual data is therefore something of a surprise.

Let’s look at the four reported lead injuries for a moment. The one death from lead, the famous incident in Minnesota where Jarnell Brown swallowed a lead charm off a Reebok bracelet, is well-known.

Injury no. 1: L.M. Becker recall (vending machine jewelry, Sept. 10, 2003): “The firm received one report of a child who swallowed the necklace’s pendant, which reportedly resulted in high blood lead levels.”

Injury no. 2: Four company recall (vending machine jewelry, July 8, 2004): “CPSC has received one report of lead poisoning when a child swallowed a piece of toy jewelry containing lead that was previously recalled. No reports of injury or illness have been received for the recalled products announced today.” THIS REFERS TO THE L.M. BECKER “INJURY” ABOVE.

Injury no. 3: Munrie Furniture, Inc. (cribs and matching furniture, December 23, 2008): “Munrie has received one report of a child ingesting the paint. The child was diagnosed with lead poisoning.”

Injury no. 4: Allreds Design (bracelets and clips, February 17, 2010): “Allreds Design received one report of a 10-month-old child who was treated by a physician for elevated lead levels.”

Do these three injuries (one injury is double-counted) have anything in common? I assert that causation is not proven in these cases. Yes, lead poisoning is alleged, however there is no evidence that the cause has been determined definitively. READ what the CPSC said – the connection to the defective children’s product is loose or even conjectural (“reportedly resulted in high blood lead levels”). Remember car seats that gave kids lead poisoning? Toxic car seats were a hoax. The injury data is flimsy at best. And this is all the evidence there is of injury from lead in children’s products in the last 11 years of recalls.

The Democrats and consumer groups would rather eat broken glass that admit that the lead poisoning scare is a hoax. They want to run our businesses – so there’s no conceding that all this economic damage cannot be traced to anything other than ONE TRAGIC ACCIDENT IN AN ELEVEN YEAR PERIOD. Uno, that’s it, in our country of 300 million where thousands of kids die every year for various reasons.

Well, at least we know our companies will die in a valiant cause, to reduce the ten-year death rate from lead in children’s products from one to zero . . . .

b. Was the CPSC really broken? This is Mr. Waxman’s assertion, as expressed in his opening remarks at the April 29 hearing. So it must be true, right?

I hope to provide more data on this topic soon. In the meantime, I will simply pass along the comments of a friend who is in the CPSC community, namely that Congress underfunded the CPSC for 20 years, leading to severely constrained budgets and hiring. Consider these quotes from a 2007 Businessweek article about the CPSC:

“Yet while the CPSC has never been more vital, through much of its 33-year history the agency has been chronically understaffed and underfunded. Overseeing 400 recalls a year, most at companies’ requests, the CPSC’s compliance team has less time to initiate its own investigations, which tend to reveal the most serious risks. . . . Growing workload and shrinking resources have left many disheartened. From a peak of nearly 1,000 in 1980, CPSC’s head count has fallen to 400. . . . What can be done to help the agency? In a word, money. It’s been 17 years since Congress thoroughly reviewed the CPSC’s resources and needs, says Nord.”

So, let’s see, Congress has been tightfisted with budgets for this little agency for many years, starving it of needed resources and headcount, effectively shrinking it over a 17-year period to a withered state, and then after an outbreak of large-scale toy recalls (by and large injury-free), Congress blames the agency for inattention to its mission and severely rewrites the law to punish the marketplace and the agency itself.

After all, why blame the entity responsible for the problem in the first place, Congress? Much easier to blame the agency!

c. Wow, those were a LOT of recalls? Is that the tip of the iceberg? As far as I can tell, the answer is that most of the iceberg is a mirage. Experienced CPSC hands note that the recall notices are prepared by the press office at the CPSC and are meant to attract attention and headlines. Big numbers, if defensible, are best suited to demonstrate that the cop is on the beat. A few tricks of the trade is to add in as many sources of “recalled” items as possible. I believe that as many as 60% (that’s no typo) of all recalled units NEVER WERE SOLD. I would simply observe that if they were never sold, they never had the potential to cause injury.

Second, the population of recalled items is always inflated out of an abundance of caution whenever there is ANY doubt as to the identity of dangerous products. In other words, if a company sold one bad lot but also sold nine good lots, all indistinguishable, the recall would be announced for all ten lots, even though there is NO dispute that nine of the lots are absolutely fine.

Without this insight, recall statistics might be alarming, at least in a sense. Actually, the recalls are something of a mirage, an illusion of legions of bad products that really don’t exist or were never sold. How can we verify this? Among other things, injury statistics back up this assertion. If we had 300 million units of dangerous products in circulation, the injury statistics of 2381 injuries in 11 years seems pretty low to me. Assuming an average time in the marketplace of three years per recalled item, this implies an annual injury rate of 0.026% (from all causes, not simply lead). If the products are in the market for only one year on average, the annual injury rate is still only 0.077%. In other words, in a worst case scenario, you can safely use RECALLED children’s products 99.92% of the time. And you would presumably be even safer with NON-RECALLED products.

Oooo, scary.

Think of it this way: There are about 3 billion toys sold in the U.S. annually, according to Alan Hassenfeld, former CEO of Hasbro. Over 11 years, that 33 billion toys. [Considering that "Children's Products" includes far more than just toys, the pool of 11 years of sales is probably north of 500 billion units.] Were you to assume that all 899 recalls in my data were toys, the pool of 308 million units recalled would represent 0.93% of all toys sold in that period. So, if 0.93% is safe 99.92% of the time, and the rest presumably safe at a higher rate (let’s say 99.999%), then the blended safety of all toys is 99.99%. The result is probably higher than that.

Numbers, numbers, do they matter?

We are spending not less than $5.6 billion per annum to “fix” this 99.99%+ safe problem. In an effort to create a much “safer” environment for kids, the helpful folks at the CPSC have produced literally thousands of pages of documents, rules and instructions to govern our businesses down to the tiniest detail. Unfortunately . . . the assertion that anyone will be safer CANNOT be proven as a matter of mathematics.

A neurotic bill administered by people who no longer can assess what is and is not safe is a danger to our society. The data proves it. Who should be held accountable? Congress? The Dems? Inez Tenenbaum? Some or all of the above.

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CPSIA – Numbers Don’t Lie (Update No. 1)