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CPSIA – What You Get For Your Database Dollars

Selections from the CPSIA database, courtesy of an interested party. It’s easy to see how careully the CPSC has been following its own rules on postings . . . . “I don’t think anyone should be wearing them and if they do try them, they should be made aware of potential injury and warned to discontinue use at the first sign of discomfort. I wish I had know.”   “Please consider taking the shoes off the market before more people are hurt.”   “each time the hat was placed on baby’s head he would cry.” [Sorry just had to add this one, it was due to broken needle.]   “My ankle still hurts and probably will never be the same.”   “…still pains me with every step I take.”    “I truly hope you will be able to make this company accountable for the quality issues we have experienced” “I also strongly encourage you to investigate how many other pieces from the same manufacturing batch could be affected…”   “it didn’t occur to me that there might be problems associated with a product being sold in a reputable store.”   “It appears that [Company name] has no concern whatsoever for Consumer Safety just profits.”   “We used an XRF analyzer and testing results showed the plate contained over 300 ppm of lead AND mercury.”    “I did NOT want another product in my home from this manufacturer”    “This product should be recalled.”

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CPSIA – What You Get For Your Database Dollars

CPSIA – NAM Letter Pounds the CPSIA Database

March 8, 2011

Mr. Todd A. Stevenson
Office of the Secretary
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Room 502
4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814

Dear Mr. Stevenson:

The National Association of Manufacturers respectfully requests the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC” or “Commission”) to 1) reconsider aspects of its final rule on the Publicly Accessible Database (“Database’),1 and 2) continue for at least three months the “Soft Launch” phase of the Database to allow the Commission and affected business users to address operational and administrative flaws identified in the “Soft Launch” to date.

On January 21, 2011 the Commission announced a “Soft Launch” to test procedures and processes to implement the database requirements, as interpreted by the Commission in its final rule. As the official Database launch date approached, companies have registered or attempted to register to participate in the Database. A total of 723 registrant companies were reported in testimony to the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade on February 17, which is only a fraction of companies manufacturing or importing consumer products in the United States. In addition, due to reported technical problems only a few preliminary “reports of harm” (as defined in the CPSC’s Final Rule on the Database) have now been able to be subject to completed processing. NAM has similarly sought information from manufacturers, importers and private labelers on experiences and problems encountered during such soft launch.

Based upon surveys of manufacturer experience, the following have been discovered to be problems which must be addressed by the Commission prior to final launch of the database:

1. Manufacturers with different divisions and brands among different product lines have indicated an inability on the part of CPSC staff to timely register multiple parties within such corporations. It is important to both the CPSC and manufacturers that the system allow for the assignment of adequate identifiers to permit review and comment on the material inaccuracy of filed complaint data within the database in a timely fashion as required by the final rule, minimizing duplicative filings for multiple corporate entities within a broader organization and allowing for streamlined communications between businesses and the CPSC. The difficulty in registering by brand/product line/division and the slow or incomplete response by the CPSC to registration raises troubling questions about the promised flow of information between the CPSC and registered companies.

2. A number of manufacturers, importers and private labelers have reported that reports not directly involving “Harm” (an express precondition to processing and posting) have contaminated the Database. Some respondents report that as many as 30% of the complaints forwarded were not adequately scrubbed to assure that they involve “harm,” as defined by law, as an express precondition to processing and posting within the database. Other respondents indicate that some claims are simply conjecture based on a review of Internet postings or product listings on a website. Such unresolved errors can undermine the integrity and purpose of the Database.

3. Licensors have indicated that they have received reports that are materially inaccurate since they involve products for which they are not the manufacturer, importer or private labeler, but which have been identified as suitable for posting. This has occurred notwithstanding a response from licensors verifying that they have been falsely identified as the manufacturer, importer or private labeler of the product, when they are not. The challenge to accurately identify the responsible party is apparently not being met by the filers, and these inaccuracies are not currently being rectified by the CPSC staff.2

4. Manufacturers, importers or private labelers have indicated that they have received reports of harm identifying an incident as involving their product that did not in fact involve their product, so were materially inaccurate, and advised CPSC of this fact. They have not received return affirmative confirmation that CPSC staff will not post such false claims in the database. CPSC staffers have indicated they may not possess the resources to adequately scrub the database to avoid posting upon such notification. This is contrary to the express direction of Congress that materially inaccurate information with the potential for irreparable reputational harm be vetted prior to posting. This is essential to fundamental fairness. Although the Commission has sought to transfer the burden of proof to manufacturers, it cannot do so once a claim is made that such data is false or materially inaccurate. The Commission can assure the public during an extended soft launch that no such harm occurs.

5. Registrant businesses also report that the completed complaint forms they received often omitted necessary data such as the model, serial number, date of manufacture or date/tracking code information (required by law to be contained on many products, including specifically children’s products) so as to better identify the products alleged to be involved with the potential for harm. The absence of this critical data makes such reports unverifiable, which can result in unfair damage to the reputation of products, brands and manufacturers.

6. The Commission’s decision in the final rule to define the term “consumer” very broadly appears contrary to the intent of Congress, and will result in the potential for multiple reports of harm involving the identical incident. This will result in public confusion about the potential extent of any possible harm and will result in the inclusion of reports based on second-hand information without the possibility of verification. Experience with paper-based reporting demonstrates that often multiple products are erroneously cited as related to reported injuries without an actual causative connection. This results in misidentification and duplication of reports, which must be avoided in the Database.

While the NAM supports a product incident database serving consumers’ need for accurate product information, we do not believe a poorly-functioning database serves the public interest. Based upon the foregoing, we respectfully request and petition the Commission to reconsider the final rule and extend the “Soft Launch” for a period of three months, so as to enable its staff to implement the statutorily mandated Database in accordance with the conditions imposed under statute and the Commission’s own regulations.

To ensure the accuracy of information submitted to the database, we specifically ask that the Commission reconsider, under its final rule, the expansive definition of “consumer” and “public safety entities” that include attorneys, investigators, or other agents of a consumer and consumer advocates, individuals who work for NGO’s, consumer advocacy organizations and trade associations. Additionally, we ask the Commission to reconsider its provisions for review of claims of materially inaccuracy and its decision not to withhold potentially inaccurate information from publication until it makes a final determination of its accuracy. Last, we ask that the Commission reconsider any provisions or sections of its rule that prevent it from effectively implementing Congressional intent or its stated aims to ensure timely review and processing of database submissions and to ensure the accuracy of its contents.

Sincerely,

Rosario Palmieri
Vice President
Infrastructure, Legal and Regulatory Policy
The National Association of Manufacturers

1 75 Fed. Reg. 76832-76872 (December 9, 2010).

2 According to the CPSC, firms receiving notice of a report of harm that incorrectly identifies them as the responsible manufacturer or private labeler of a product that immediately informs the Commission of such misidentification can reasonably expect the CPSC to stop the 10 day clock for publication of the report in the Database. If the recipient of the report of harm is not the manufacturer or private labeler, the Commission can decide not to post the report either because it is materially inaccurate or because it has determined that the report of harm is missing one of the minimum requirements for publication. CPSC staff has noted that given its experience with the incident reporting system, it recognizes that consumers may misidentify the product manufacturer or private labeler. Such claims of material inaccuracy generally are resolved quickly and easily if the receiving firm provides sufficient information. Staff further notes that Firms have an incentive to immediately report errors to prevent reports of harm from being published in the Database that misidentify them as the manufacturer or private labeler. This underscores the importance of an accurate registration system that allows businesses to be identified and to quickly get reports of harm to relevant business contacts within the company so that a response can be provided. The CPSC has not yet defined what information will be deemed “sufficient” to block publication, leaving manufacturers, importers and private labelers to guess on how to deal with inaccurate identification of their products or brands in database filings.

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CPSIA – NAM Letter Pounds the CPSIA Database

CPSIA – ICPHSO Presentation on CPSC Strategic Plan

You know they have a strategy . . . .

I am at ICPHSO for the next couple days, reporting from this safety convention “live” for the third year in a row.

As in the past, I am working “live” and off my notes, so take it for what it’s worth. I may make some mistakes (which I regret), but heck, this is a blog. According to my critics, you shouldn’t believe half of what I say anyhow . . . .

The Opening Session today featured Ken Hinson, the Executive Director of the CPSC. Ken is a relatively new addition to the senior staff of the agency.

Mr. Hinson argues that employment at the CPSC is directly correlated to safety. Reported incidents are skyrocketing, but investigations are declining. This statistic does not capture what the agency is DOING as a result of those investigations, notably.

The agency is “extremely excited” about the product database. One wonders what they are so “extremely excited” about, given the extensive testimony about the problems with the database. Wayne Morris of AHAM testified in Congress last week that when erroneous information is posted, as it certainly will be, there is NOTHING that can be done to remove it from the Internet. He compared the database to a “blog”. A blog! I testified in the same Congressional hearing that the effect of the database will be to encourage consumers to NOT communicate directly with us about product issues but instead to post to the database, and since the CPSC restricts our access to this data, it is likely that the database will INCREASE safety risks.

Lots to be “extremely excited” about, indeed!

The CPSC Strategic Plan is now online. I requested to be interviewed as part of the process of developing the Strategic Plan, as I was invited to do, but somehow they failed to call. Hmmm.

Five goals:

  1. Leadership in Safety
  2. Commitment to Prevention
  3. Rigorous Hazard Identification
  4. Decisive Response
  5. Raising Awareness

First goal: Will create annual plans to address the most pressing merging safety hazards. Supposedly will be working closely with stakeholders, you know, like readers of this blog. Okay, not us, but somebody. I bet consumer groups might be on that list . . . .

Second goal: They want us to “build safety into consumer products”. Presumably the CSPC thinks this is a new idea because with an ex post facto approach to safety, any injury means the manufacturer screwed up. We’re always wrong, thus inviting the government to get involved in what we do to make things “better”. As Ronald Reagan said, the most frightening sentence in the English language is “We’re the government and we’re here to help!”

They’re going to give us proactive education on how to design our products more safely and will create incentives to encourage us. I can imagine those “incentives” might be based on penalties imposed and threats made by the agency in recent years.

Third goal: This is the scary one – they will be looking deeply for hazards, like cords on baby monitors . . . . Presumably, when they find a “hazard”, well, you know what happens next. They are working on increasing their ability to obtain, analyze and act on information of “hazards”.

My problem with this is that the definition of what constitutes a “hazard” has been lost. Perhaps this is a picky point, but they don’t have the legislative authority to do whatever they want. They are restricted to work on SUBSTANTIAL PRODUCT HAZARD. In fact, they are limited by the law. Someone should tell them about this.

Mr. Hinson: “This is all about speed.” There’s a confidence builder for me – hasty judgments are always better by definition.

Fourth goal: The CPSC plans to act fast and “hold manufacturers responsible”. It’s all about “speed”. Again, agency policy seems to be to encourage hasty judgments. Based on industry chatter, this policy does not involve dithering or considering defenses or due process. The CPSC is judge and jury, legislature and executive branch. In fact, often it is a junior and inexperienceds staffer who is judge and jury. See how you like it when you are on the receiving end.

This will be SUPER until all products are finally killed off.

Raising awareness is critical to empowering consumers, so says Mr. Hinson. I question whether empowering them to panic or make judgments based on scant, erroneous or inappropriate data is a really good idea or good public policy. The “good news” is that they have set this plan in motion, so your opinions and mine don’t matter.

Fifth goal: The raising awareness goal certainly incorporates the wonderful new database. Likewise, Neal Cohen and the small business liaison office is part of this plan.

Btw, raising awareness is a really good goal for the agency but if it doesn’t know what a hazard is, or have good processes to encourage trust among manufacturers, they can do a lot of damage with their clean heart and good intentions. Sucking up to left wing politicians and consumer groups does not necessarily produce good public policy. The agency might consider taking more seriously criticism of its activities and actually taking on board suggestions by knowledgeable stakeholders, including ex-CPSC staff.

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CPSIA – ICPHSO Presentation on CPSC Strategic Plan

CPSIA – CPSC Recalls Baby Product for Missing Warning Label

Striking a new low for the Nanny State, the CPSC last week recalled 1.7 million baby monitors/cameras for a missing warning label.

Let me repeat – this recall was over a missing warning label.

There is no sign from the announcement that the warning label was required by law – this is apparently an ex post facto requirement dreamt up by the CPSC.

Anyone ever heard of cost/benefit analysis in the U.S. government???

So what was the hazard? As with many baby product recalls, there were two deaths of infants involved. Two children, one six months old and one 20 months old, strangled on cords attached to baby monitors made by a company called Summer. As Summer notes on its recall notice, there have been seven strangulations since 2004 involving cords on baby monitors placed in or near cribs, but only two involved Summer products. This is NOT a product recall, as they clarify – they are providing new stickers, a new guide and some clips to hold cords. It was a “voluntary” recall, or so the company says.

Let me get this out of the way: I am as regretful as the next person about the tragic death of two toddlers. I do not discount the significance of that loss.

However . . . dangling cords near a crib is a bad idea that most parents recognize. This is not specific to baby monitors, either. Check out the CPSC’s illustration of the hazard:

This is the same hazard as ANY electrical device near a crib – a light, a radio, a humidifier, you name it. This is NOT a specific hazard of the baby monitor in question, nor of any specific electrical device. One wonders why the CPSC chose to recall this product or why they called their action a “recall”.

It is unfortunately elemental that cords near a crib can maim or kill. This is no different than the hazard presented by the cords on blinds near a crib. It is very sad that such terrible accidents have happened seven times over eight years. That’s seven unnecessary tragedies no doubt caused by mistake or simple error. Nonetheless, it is NOT the responsibility of the manufacturer or the State to guarantee good luck or good parenting. Some hazards are for the parents to manage. At a certain point, individual responsibility must be asserted.

As a manufacturer, the fiat of a federal agency issuing a RECALL for a missing warning label is terrifying, especially under these circumstances. Of course, consumers are becoming jaded by endless recalls, too. As the agency loses ALL perspective on which hazards deserve regulatory attention (everything seems to be a hazard these days), and blaring headlines numb everyone to the signficance of recalls in general, it is hard to resist cynicism. The CPSC with all the good intentions in the world . . . is starting to make a mockery of itself.

It’s a mania. Somebody help us.

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CPSIA – CPSC Recalls Baby Product for Missing Warning Label

CPSIA – CPSC Calls for Comments on 100 PPM Lead Limit

738 days have passed since ANY Democrat in Congress did ANYTHING to help us on the CPSIA. There are 73 days left until Election Day.


The CPSC recently called for comments on the CPSIA’s scheduled reduction in permitted lead limits to 100 ppm on August 14, 2011. This is one of the most disruptive provisions of a truly disruptive law and therefore this call for comments DESERVES YOUR ATTENTION.

Let’s review the situation – the CPSIA requires that the lead limit be lowered to 100 ppm if it is “technologically feasible” (Section 101(a)). This determination can be made product-by-product or even by product class. In other words, some of us might get a free pass because the CPSC decides it isn’t “technologically feasible” for them, but the rest of us might get screwed. Figure that the big guys with the money to put in comments prepared by highly-paid consultants have an advantage here. Big surprise . . . .

The definition of “technological feasibility” is found in Section 101(d) in the CPSIA.

“(d) TECHNOLOGICAL FEASIBILITY DEFINED.—For purposes of this section, a limit shall be deemed technologically feasible with regard to a product or product category if— (1) a product that complies with the limit is commercially available in the product category; (2) technology to comply with the limit is commercially available to manufacturers or is otherwise available within the common meaning of the term; (3) industrial strategies or devices have been developed that are capable or will be capable of achieving such a limit by the effective date of the limit and that companies, acting in good faith, are generally capable of adopting; or (4) alternative practices, best practices, or other operational changes would allow the manufacturer to comply with the limit.” [Emphasis added]

To help explain what “technological feasibility” means, I have coined this expression – “If Rolex can do it, you HAVE to do it.” Yes, that means that this term has been defined to focus solely on technological capability with an explicit and intentional omission of any economic considerations (how expensive it might be for you to lower your products to this level). A single example of a product produced within these extreme limits is apparently an insurmountable obstacle to an exemption under this provision. No matter that it is extremely expensive. The all-platinum ATV comes to mind.

The meaninglessness of this reduction from a health or safety standpoint is likewise legally irrelevant.

A quick scan of the Request for Comment shows that the CPSC intends to follow its earlier path of exempting materials that are ALWAYS under the 100 ppm limit. I have “criticized” the conclusions of the previous CPSC effort. Expect nothing less than the insights from the CPSC’s last try which authorizes the use of super-expensive materials and by-products of nuclear waste in children’s products. Anyone for an osmium-laced baby blanket?

You will also note that there is ZERO reference to economics in the Request for Comment. In other words, money factors are totally irrelevant. This might matter to you if you project that this requirement could lead to sudden and deadly losses in your business or otherwise hasten your departure from the children’s product market. Not that the Dems (who are driving this thing) or the CPSC give a darn about your little problems.

YOU NEED TO SEND IN COMMENTS ON THE 100 PPM LIMIT. Ideally, you will gather data and make a reasoned argument. PROTECT YOURSELF – this is an important request for comment. Comments are due on SEPTEMBER 27, 2010.

And one last note: despite your government’s current attitude, this remains YOUR country. Please consider how you feel about a law like this and its impact on your stakeholders (owners, employees, customers, suppliers, consumers, community). You don’t need to accept the fate Mr. Waxman and his merry band have in mind for you. There’s an Election Day coming. Don’t waste it.

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CPSIA – CPSC Calls for Comments on 100 PPM Lead Limit

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 – Tracking Labels Answer Received Today

The CPSC answered my letter of September 18 regarding tracking labels today. In a nutshell, my question was about how small businesses are supposed to ascertain “cohort information” from fungible products if we are permitted to not use lot markings. The answer to that question was not clear (to me) from the Tracking Labels Guidance.

In today’s response, the CPSC seems to indicate more flexibility than I had read into the Guidance. Tony Cook of the Office of General Counsel states: “Your letter suggests that the manufacturer lacks flexibility regarding information that must be ‘ascertainable’. As with the ‘marking’ requirement, the manufacturer’s reasonable judgment and consideration of the manufacturer’s particular circumstances, are guiding issues.” He carries on helpfully: “Without such an approach, an absolute requirement to have ascertainable all required information would in effect swallow the Commission’s considered course with respect to marking.” This is the conflict that motivated my concern.

On the other hand, Mr. Cook states “. . . what can be marked and what can be ascertainable are separate questions”. This is the rub, of course. This means that even if you can’t mark the item, you might still have to be able to ascertain the cohort information. How do you do that? Well, you can’t.

It all boils down to what is considered “reasonable judgment”. In fact, I have never found this a challenging standard to meet in our business but that was before there were huge penalties and possibly jail time to consider.

In an environment where the regulators want us to exercise sound judgment, there needs to be some recognition that the incentive to take the risk of exercising judgment only makes sense when that judgment is PROTECTED. No one wants to risk huge fines for doing their job (or let their teammates incur this risk). Thus, I think the CPSC needs to look at the question about ascertainability again. The CPSC needs to say flat out that it will respect the judgment of manufacturers on how they determine which information, if any, can be ascertainable, as long as the decision on marking was deliberate, consistent and made on a good faith basis.

In the case of our business, tracking labels serve no particular purpose except to slow us down and waste our money. We have recalled 130 pieces since 1984 (out of an estimated one billion shipped, all units believed recovered) so the risk to consumers, at least thus far, seems controlled. I would like the authority to decide how much to spend on tracking labels and information retention/accessibility, based on my knowledge of our products, our market, our track record and our legal obligations. Then, if we exercise good faith and are reasonable and consistent in our approach to markings and cohort information, the CPSC should respect our decisions. thus, a failure to mark or ascertain would not be held against us unless our balancing of the equities is demonstrated to be unreasonable.

None of this would be necessary except for the ridiculous penalties and fines possible under the CPSIA. The indiscriminate manner of penalizing under the law makes minor issues (even inconsequential errors) into potentially serious problems. In addition, given that the CPSC recent practice of doling out penalties for long ago settled disputes, the long tail of 20-20 hindsight makes this dilemma particularly uncomfortable.

I appreciate the CPSC’s effort in replying to me, and look forward to working with them to bring more clarity to this very important point.

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CPSIA – Tracking Labels Answer Received Today