Archive for July, 2012

When Two Times Three Occasionally Equals Seven

Think back to when you took exams in school. Now imagine if your exam was sent to two different teachers of the same subject for grading and you ended up with a passing grade from one and a failing grade from the other. You would rightly wonder what is going on, wouldn’t you? This is the same situation that manufacturers and retailers have to deal with: the same children’s product is tested by two different testing labs and it produces two different test results. Since test results can mean the difference between whether you can legally sell your product or have to destroy it, this is not inconsequential.

The Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) requires that children’s products be tested by a CPSC-accepted third-party laboratory to determine compliance with all applicable regulations.  Congress, concerned about the costs of this testing, asked that we come up with ways to reduce costs. Members of the public have given us comments for reducing the costs of third party testing, and according to studies submitted in several of these comments, it appears standardized testing is not the touted safety panacea due to test result variability.

Below are some problems mentioned in the public comments.

“This represents a major risk for the supply chain if testing in different parts of the world provides different results . . . . The industry experiences test result discrepancy due to different sample preparation methods in laboratories” –Global Apparel, Footwear and Textile Initiative

 “Eight different CPSC-firewalled laboratories found the samples’ lead content to range between less than 50 ppm to 262 ppm . . . .Each laboratory reported different results.
“. . . .
“[N]early 50% of FJATA’s members reported that when products failed, the test results were just over the target limit. In total, almost 90% reported that test results were within 10% of target limits.”
–Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association

“The Commission should take action to establish some statistical level of testing error.  This will help reduce retesting costs and avoid the need to destroy a batch or lot of consumer products that fails by a margin within the statistical level of error.”  –Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc.

These comments and others like them are troubling since they raise basic questions about the reliability of the testing that is a basis for much of our recent regulatory work. We need to recognize the existence of inter-laboratory testing variability and find a solution that is practicable in the marketplace. One way to get at this issue is to publicly recognize a margin of error. By staying silent on this issue, we force businesses to absorb the costs of borderline failed test results. This translates into destroyed product, lost sales, and, ultimately, price
increases for consumers.

I look forward to the staff evaluations on this issue, particularly because they themselves attest to the variability of test results. Staff found certain lead content results “represent the compliance dilemma surrounding any regulatory lead limit” [1]. I hope that we can reform these requirements to remove the confusion and burden our regulations have created.

Seek Alignment and Harmonization–Now

Almost one year ago, Congress directed the CPSC to come up with ways to reduce the costs of third party testing.  I mentioned in my previous blog several general themes that occur again and again in the public comments on how to reduce testing burdens. Today, I would like to give you a flavor of some specific comments submitted concerning harmonization of both safety standards and testing requirements, be they international, federal, or state. Differences in requirements frequently lead to redundant testing which leads to additional costs without any noteworthy increase in safety. Unnecessary costs take their toll in the form of lost jobs or shuttered businesses, and the ultimate loser is the consumer, stuck with the bill and fewer choices. In addition, the global economy is affected as increased testing costs impede both innovation and the ability of companies to expand into foreign markets.

Below are some examples from the comments received.

“It is becoming a minefield of compliance issues and companies are having trouble avoiding violating one regulation in an attempt to comply with another.  In the process, testing costs are increasing.” –American Apparel and Footwear Association

“Manufacturers of children’s art material products are subject to four tiers of federal regulation: FHSA, LHAMA, ASTM D4236, and CPSIA…This creates many redundant testing requirements for the industry and raises costs for them.” –The Art & Creative Materials Institute, Inc.

“The CPSIA standards are a lot like the EN 71 requirements, which we already do fulfill…But even though [sic], we are asked to test all our products again to CPSIA standards.”  –Grimm’s (German toy manufacturer)

 “A strong federal standard that preempts state standards is very important for the success of a business.  Compliance with a patchwork of state standards is impractical, extremely burdensome, and does not make the product any safer.”  -Toy Industry Association

These and other comments show that this is an important, multi-layered and complex issue. But just because it is hard to solve does not mean that we should not spend more time and effort trying. I look forward to receiving staff recommendations on how to address this important issue. The numerous comments we received from such a diverse group of commentors indicates that this is something the agency needs to address.

Reducing Costs of Third Party Testing While Keeping Safety in Mind

Last August, Congress passed H.R. 2715, a reform that required us to seek public comment and to devise concrete steps towards reducing the costs of third-party testing while continuing our safety efforts. I applaud those that took the time and effort to comment; I myself sent a list of recommendations to staff last December.

We have been in the process of reviewing the public comments and we soon expect to get a staff report addressing those comments. There were over 25 commenters from a wide range of industries and organizations and it has been illuminating to see the different issues experienced by both small and large businesses, domestically and internationally. Among several common themes was the overarching message that the costs of third party testing were severely impacting the global supply chain without a commensurate advancement in safety.

Here is a sample of common themes received.

  • Harmonization: One of the largest complaints from the public is the lack of alignment of international, federal, and state standards. That lack of alignment results in higher costs without additional safety.
  • Small Volume Testing: Many companies still endure high testing costs on their small volume productions simply because they fall into the mid-large manufacturer category.  The result? Companies cease to produce small runs, innovation is thwarted, and the consumer faces fewer useful products.
  • Inter-lab Variability: Commenters from several industries reported inaccuracies among laboratory results, especially with such minute levels as the 100 ppm lead requirement.  How is safety advanced when everyone agrees there are continuing discrepancies?
  • Reducing Testing Redundancies: Many large retailers require testing to be done by specific third party testing laboratories. So if a manufacturer sells to five different retailers, then the manufacturer may be required to perform the same exact test on the same exact product five times.
  • Over-defining  Standards: Unnecessary testing has been required due to overreaching, expansive statutory interpretations, including the over-broad identification of children’s product safety rules.

I look forward to the staff recommendations that should address these issues and others raised by the public. It is vital that we examine our regulations to reduce the costs of third party testing in such a way that safety is not compromised.

A Model For Success

Cords in a nursery present a strangulation hazard that this agency has been grappling with for many years.  Earlier this month we announced an education and public awareness campaign jointly with the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association to warn parents and caregivers about this hazard.  The campaign focuses on baby monitors, but hopefully its impact will extend to all cords in the nursery.

 

As both a commissioner and a parent, I am pleased to see the agency participate in this cooperative campaign.  It addresses a real problem in a comprehensive manner.  One alternative would have been to conduct a series of “recalls to warn,” offering consumers a warning label to remind them of the hazard.  We tried such a recall last year.  As you would expect, the consumer reaction was pretty underwhelmed.  A “recall” that consumers do not respond to can easily lead to “recall fatigue.”  Not just offering a label but a comprehensive, cooperative campaign to help parents and caregivers understand, recognize and avoid the hazard is a much better way to advance safety.

 

I hope that this campaign provides a model for future agency action in dealing with similar situations.

A Million Here, A Million There…

In June, the White House Office of Management and Budget directed federal agencies to take action to reduce paperwork burdens.  What is the CPSC’s reaction? Well, last week we voted on a proposal that would require additional recordkeeping on top of extensive recordkeeping already required for periodic third-party testing of children’s products. By our own admission, this newest recordkeeping would probably only rarely be used. The price tag for this recordkeeping is estimated to be as high as $32.5 million at first, with an additional $13 million each year thereafter. And it must be noted that the burden would fall heavily on small businesses. This requirement was neither in the spirit of the OMB directive, nor was it good regulatory policy.

Simply put, the recent vote on “representative samples” would have added another regulatory requirement that incurred unjustifiably high costs with little benefit. As responsible regulators, it is our job to create rules that maximize safety while minimizing cost. I voted to support the definition of “representative samples” which was supported by all Commissioners, but without the additional unjustified costs. A million here, a million there, adds up to an ever-increasing burden for those trying to innovate and remain competitive, to say nothing of consumers who have to ultimately pay the cost.

Read my statement here.

Sparking Fireworks Reform

Tomorrow is the 4th of July and fireworks will be part of many of your celebrations. The use of fireworks for festive occasions is centuries old, and so, too, is the risk in using them.

Consumers should use fireworks responsibly and the CPSC should make sure that our regulations help consumers have a safe and fun experience. This was brought home to me by a Wall Street Journal article last week noting that many states have eased fireworks restrictions. Therefore, it is even more important that CPSC’s regulations on fireworks be up-to-date and capable of protecting the public from risks inherent in modern fireworks. But, that is not the case.

The current CPSC fireworks safety standards were written many years ago and really need to be modernized.  For example: under our current standard to determine if a Roman candle is overloaded with explosives, someone has to listen to how loud it is when it is exploded.  If it sounds too loud, it fails. The only testing equipment—just our tester’s ear! Would you like your product tested so subjectively?

There has been talk about the need to update the CPSC fireworks standard ever since I got here. I have tried to spur action on this only to be told that other priorities take precedence. Yet with more than 9,000 injuries every year, you would think that we could find some time to work on this issue more effectively.

In earlier posts I have talked about the importance of reviewing existing rules to identify and correct those that are out of date, need revision or impose undue burdens. Unfortunately, so far our rule review exercise is one of minor housekeeping, not major repair. Serious rule review doesn’t appear to be on the horizon. If we were serious, we have a number of rules that need revision—the fireworks rule should be toward the top of the list.

In the meantime, here are some safety tips for using fireworks.  And have a wonderful holiday!


Enter your email address to subscribe to my blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 916 other followers

Nancy's Photos

More Photos

  • 58,472 visits

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 916 other followers