product safety complaint database Archives - Shopfloor

CPSIA Update: Draft Bill Would Repair the Erratabase

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Twelve witnesses offered testimony at the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade’s hearing Thursday on draft legislation to repair the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. A dozen witnesses makes for a wearisome hearing, but it tells you that there’s a lot in the CPSIA that needs to be fixed.

Testifying on behalf of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, Charles A. Samuels expressed support for the draft bill’s fixes to the product safety complaint database. As currently structured by the CPSC, the database encourages the reporting of inaccurate or purposefully false claims, doing damage to a company or a product’s reputation without an opportunity for manufacturers to provide an effective, timely response. Samuels summarized:

The existing database procedures do not comport with the original intent of the CPSIA which is that reports should only be posted from those who are harmed, their family or representatives or actual public safety agencies. Nor do the CPSC procedures require resolution of well-founded claims of material inaccuracy before reports are posted or require sufficient information such that manufacturers can respond to and evaluate the reports. The draft legislation resolution goes a long way to resolve these issues.

The legislation’s tightening of the definitions of who may report on the database will improve and focus the database while retaining the important roles of consumer groups, trial attorneys, and industry representatives on CPSC matters. The legislation’s requirements for resolution of claims of material inaccuracy before posting on the internet will add quality and fairness to the database, and the procedure for ascertaining specific models will enhance the value of the program to consumers, manufacturers and CPSC.

A database full of bad information does not serve the interests of consumers or manufacturers.

CPSIA Update: Allow Regulators to Assess Risk

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The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade held a hearing Thursday on the much-needed draft bill to revise the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the 2008 law that has rolled a wrecking ball through businesses as diverse as motorcycle and bicycle manufacturers, bookstores, the fashion industry, ball-point pen companies, thrift stores, and home-based toy- and doll-makers.

The committee’s background memo lays out the provisions of the draft bill. Subcommittee Chairman Mary Bono Mack discussed the legislation’s goals in her opening statement. Excerpt:

The discussion draft aims to reduce the regulatory burdens of the law without undercutting consumer protection. A fundamental premise is that the Commission can actually protect consumers far better when it is allowed to set priorities and regulate based on risk. Where possible, we should spare the Commission from having to make time-consuming, case-by-case determinations, and let it spend more time on bigger problems. This is especially true in our current budget climate, where we have to make the most of scarce agency resources.

That emphasis on risk-based analysis is very important. The current CPSIA has forced the Consumer Product Safety Commission to enforce regulations on lead content, for example, that have no relation to risk — that is, no risk to consumer safety — causing the CPSC to misallocate personnel and resources that could be more effectively used in other areas.

It was gratifying to hear Robert Jay Howell, the CPSC’s assistant executive director on hazard identification and reduction, endorse the risk-based approach toward regulation during Q&A. (Although, as he made clear in his prepared statement, he was testifying in his personal capacity.)

Fix the CPSIA Erratabase Before It Harms Commerce, Consumers

By | Regulations | One Comment

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is scheduled to take its product safety complaint database online Friday, doing a real disservice to consumers who want accurate information and to companies that will have their reputations harmed by false, inaccurate and even malign reports about their products.


CPSC promotes its database

The National Association of Manufacturers this week filed a petition for reconsideration of the final rule implementing the database under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). The NAM also requested an extension of the CPSC’s “soft launch” for three months to prevent the database from going “live” before fixing a number of administrative and policy challenges yet to be resolved. (NAM letter.)

We’ve seen many claims that the test phase of the database produced few of the false complaints that the manufacturers and others have been so concerned about. The advocates for the regulatory state at OMB Watch, for example, reported:

Manufacturers and business associations like the National Association of Manufacturers have targeted the database for fear that inaccurate data will be reported by consumers and, as a result, profits could be hurt. In CPSC’s testing of the site during the soft launch, however, “of the 900 complaints that were logged, four were determined to be inaccurate,” according to a March 3 BNA article (subscription required).

Curse you, business owners, for caring about profits!

This isn’t the full story, but even if it were, that’s four wrong complaints that could harm a company or product’s reputation. Multiply the number of complaints tens of thousands of times once the database starts operating, and the 0.44 percent inaccuracy rate starts to look seriously damaging. (We can also speculate about the trial lawyers and “consumer activists” holding back submissions during the trial run, waiting for the database to get up and running before salting it with inflammatory reports.)

Worse, NAM and its members have identified six serious problems with the database that would make it a font of bad information, the erratabase we write about. Consider this one:

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.

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) won passage of an amendment in H.R. 1, the continuing resolution, to block funding for the database until Congress had conducted a thorough review. (See Shopfloor, “CPSC Erratabase and the Interests of Trial Lawyers.“) The amendment has brought Pompeo the expected obloquy from the left, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, issued a news release denouncing it. Read More

CPSIA Update: How to Fix the CPSC Erratabase

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Testifying at a House hearing Thursday, Vice President Wayne Morris of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) did an able job reporting the concerns of manufacturers about a new product safety complaint database being launched by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Morris was a witness at the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing and Trade’s hearing, “A Review of CPSIA and CPSC Resources.” (His prepared statement is here.) As AHAM’s news release summarizes:

AHAM’s testimony supports the creation of a public database and supports the funding necessary to properly execute this undertaking. However, it also AHAM’s viewpoint that the current design and operation of the web site decreases the quality and accuracy of information that will keep consumers safe, places unreasonable burdens on manufacturers, and does not require timely resolution of good faith material inaccuracy claims.

Manufacturers have proposed many ways to fix the database, Saferproducts.gov, as Morris made specific recommendations:

• Information should not be added to the public database while there is a pending claim of material inaccuracy.
• Eligible reporters to the database should be limited to those with first-hand information about the harm or with a relationship to the consumer – which, AHAM pointed out, was Congress’s intent.
• Registration of model or other descriptor information should be required where available. AHAM acknowledged that such information would be difficult to determine for some consumer products (such as rubber balls).

In her prepared statement, CPSC Commissioner Anne Northup called for Congress to enact two major changes to the way the commission does business, including modifications to improve the value of the product safety database. She testified that Congress, through the appropriations process, could immediately: Read More

CPSIA Update: House Hearing to Examine CPSC, Including Erratabase

By | Briefly Legal, Regulations | 2 Comments

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade has an excellent line-up of witnesses scheduled for its hearing Thursday on the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

The first panel includes two CPSC commissioners, Chairman Inez Tenenbaum and Anne Northup. The second panel:

  • Ms. Jolie Fay, founder of Skipping Hippos and secretary for the Handmade Toy Alliance.
  • Mr. Wayne Morris, vice president for division services, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers
  • Mr. Rick Woldenberg, chairman of Learning Resources, Inc., an educational games and resources company
  • Ms. Nancy A. Cowles, executive director of Kids In Danger

The Handmade Toys Alliance has emerged as the most effective grassroots organization in explaining how the CPSIA has done so much damage to small business operators who make hand-crafted products at home or in small shops. Many have been driven out of business by the CPSIA’s regulatory inflexibility and costs.

Wayne Morris represents manufacturers and will offer views of the threat posed by the new product safety database, which the CPSC has designed in such a way to invite inaccurate or even false complaints that could do damage to a company’s reputation with no effective recourse. Most troubling is the CPSC’s decision to expand the definition of those who can make complaints via the database, potentially allowing trial lawyers or activists to submit inflammatory comments for pecuniary or political reasons.

Rick Woldenberg is the tireless advocate for regulations that recognize the real world of business — the real world, period. His advocacy at the blog, CPSIA – Comments & Observations, has really moved the debate.

Strangely, on the eve of the hearing, Chairman Tenenbaum has chosen to publish a blog post about the complaint database cosigned by U.S. PIRG’s public health advocate, Liz Hitchcock. The post urges U.S. PIRG members to use the public safety database, but Congress never approved making such “consumer activist” groups acceptable reporters under the CPSIA. The definition of who qualifies to lodge a complaint was expanded far beyond the statute by a majority vote of the CPSC, led by Chairman Tenenbaum, and it’s that expansion that debases the database. Tenenbaum’s co-blogging at the site of a leading left-leaning activist group immediately before the hearing almost looks like a conscious poke in the eye to committee members.

UPDATE (9:20 a.m. Thursday): Rick Woldenberg covers the news leading up to today’s committee hearing.

Debased Database: CPSC Approves Rule That Will Invite Bogus Complaints

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The Consumer Product Safety Commission met today to review the staff proposal for a final rule on the Publicly Available Consumer Product Safety Information Database, one of the many new federal regulations created by the 2008 law, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

The CPSC’s commissioners had a particularly vigorous discussion about the proposal and the alternative proposal offered by Commissioners Nancy Nord and Anne Northup. The Nord-Northup amendment was defeated 2-3, and a substitute amendment by Commissioner Robert S. Adler was adopted 3-2. The upshot is that the final rule was approved for promulgation without the CPSC fixing the most significant concerns raised by a large number of parties.

Extensive debate took place both in Congress and then within the Commission on the appropriate types of “reporters” to the database, that is, which individuals or groups would be recognized for registering legitimate complaints. The CPSC staff’s final proposal acknowledged that Congress provided an exhaustive list of reporters but strained credulity by expanding the definitions of “consumers” and “public safety entities” beyond their clear public meaning and the intent of the drafters of the legislation. The new definition includes attorneys, investigators, professional engineers, agents of a user of a consumer product, observers of the consumer products being used, consumer advocates, and consumer advocacy organizations, among others. As a result, the database with be filled with bogus reports inspired by political or financial motives rather than safety.

Congress also struck an appropriate balance between the speed of publication of reports and the desire for accuracy as well as the protection of confidential business information. The final rule provides for no such balance and creates a default for immediate publication before any meritorious claims regarding trade secrets or material inaccuracy are resolved. An alternative was offered that provides for the opportunity for staff to make determinations about such claims prior to posting the reports to the database, but it was rejected. Once a trade secret is posted within a report, for example, no remedy is available to undo the damage. These claims as well as claims of inaccuracy, impossibility, or product misidentification should be resolved before the information is made public if the database is to provide helpful information to the public.

Unfortunately, the Commission rejected a common sense approach today. It is now up to Congress to reclaim its authority and correct these errors.

Rosario Palmieri is the National Association of Manufacturers’ vice president for infrastructure, legal and regulatory policy.

UPDATE (1:35 p.m.): Commissioners Tenenbaum, Adler and Moore have issued a statement on their vote to approve the final rule. Commissioners Nord and Northup have posted their statement here. The majority three are Democratic appointees, the minority two are Republicans.