Experience Counts

I received the following comment  on my recent blog “Conversations FOR Consumers”.   The commenter brings an interesting, real-life perspective to the discussion about third party testing, and I appreciate his taking time to comment. I would really like to hear from others who have real-life insights to share like this one. This kind of conversation is exactly why I started blogging. As Commissioners we don’t get to hear enough about how things like the third party testing requirement are working.  

One of my fellow commissioners, in a recent statement, dismissed the value of such anecdotal experience, stating that “the plural of anecdote is not data.”  I disagree with this attitude—it’s critical for us to hear from those who make and sell  products,  live with the regulations and laws coming out of Washington, and  who have to meet a weekly payroll to support jobs and families.  We need to hear your experiences and suggestions.  

Commissioner Nord,

I am a quality & compliance engineer for a small to mid sized family owned business in Virginia. We sell products in all of the major retail outlets in the US and Canada. Having experience working for a 3rd party consumer product safety laboratory and in the manufacturing sector, there are difficulties with the testing certification requirements in CPSIA, that certainly don’t add up.

Although my company has policies and processes in place, and relationships with factories that date back decades, our situation isn’t like most importers of Chinese produced goods. I am not one to point the finger at China and declare that all factories there produce hazardous products, because I know this isn’t true. However, I do understand the Chinese manufacturing culture and know first hand from past positions I have held, that if given the opportunity, many factories will “roll the dice” and ship merchandise that contains chemicals and elements regulated by CPSIA and other consumer product Act’s. Fortunately for me, I have a close knit group of factories, whose interest is in shipping safe and fully compliant products. It goes way beyond financial investment.

Where I do see the confusion is in the testing certification. On one side, components are allowed to be tested and proof of compliance available upon request. The other hand, full products are tested and proof of compliance available upon request. Either way, a test report from a CPSC approved 3rd party lab is only as good as the samples the lab received; it doesn’t always reflect what was actually shipped. Those factories willing to roll the dice will ship what they have or what is cheapest, if no one is looking. If there is no market enforcement, they will continue to do so until they are caught. This is precisely what happened with Mattel. Their factories weren’t policed prior, during or after production. They probably got away with shipping this merchandise with lead for years before the recalls.

I dont think 3rd party testing is necessarily the answer or proof that either the CPSC or Congress expects. The theory is a good one, but the execution and reliability of that theory aren’t a true reality. Of course, CPSC product procurement and testing, which results in recalls (mandatory or voluntary) and civil penalties, will have everyone scrambling to ensure a compliant product is shipped.

I think the mandates for compliance are possible; they can be met in every consumer product category, but the responsibility lies with the owner of that product; the person who imports and brands the product. They are responsible for implementing the proper systems and procedures far in advance of a production run, to ensure that no product is contaminated. No 3rd party test lab report will identify what “truly” goes on in a factory. Testing is not necessary to ship product, because it doesn’t always reflect what is actually inside of the container.

I appreciate the work you have done with the commission and I contiually look for your blog updates and have been present at several of your speaking engagements over the past several years. Keep up the good work Mrs. Nord, we appreciate you!

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