Published April 24, 2014
Tags: CPSC, Recalls
Earlier this week I was at St. Louis University to present at its product safety management program, an intensive executive education course offered by the University’s business school for product safety professionals. I have done this several times before and, as always, the students were smart, insightful and articulate as they posed practical questions about complying with the complex CPSC rules that have been issued over the past several years.
It was interesting to me that the class participants were all aware of the CPSC’s proposed changes to the voluntary recall rule. Quite a bit of concern was expressed by the class about how those rules, if finalized, would change the recall process. I was very impressed that company compliance professionals are watching what happens with this rule—clearly, this is not inside baseball.
Much has been written about this proposed rule—how it is a solution in search of a problem; how it will fundamentally change the voluntary recall process; how it will slow down recalls to the detriment of consumers.
The Washington Legal Foundation recently asked me for my thoughts on how the proposed rule would impact the voluntary recall process. Today they published my article and you can find it here:
Let me know what you think.
Earlier this week a friend told me that unfair and misleading information had been put on his Wikipedia page without his knowledge. While I have no idea how things get posted on Wikipedia, I do know that, with greater frequency, Wikipedia posts are being cited as fact. And I could not help but think about how the process of morphing disinformation into “factual” information would be accelerated if the federal government could cite, use, and repost information found on the internet without making efforts to verify the validity of that information.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what the CPSC is suggesting it be able to do in a proposed rule that would “modernize” its regulations dealing with information disclosure. The law requires that the public disclosure of any information obtained by the agency that identifies a manufacturer or product be accurate and fair. The current regulations set out a process for checking with the product manufacturer to verify the accuracy and fairness of the information proposed to be disclosed. The agency now proposed to substantially change the rules with respect to how it carries out its responsibility to assure the accuracy of the product-specific information it publicly discloses.
Among other things, the agency wants to republish with impunity information about a product that has already been made public, including information on the internet. The agency would have no obligation to go back to the manufacturer to verify the accuracy of the information it proposes to republish. Apparently checking the validity of such information is just too much of a burden. And publishing unverified information by the federal government lends credence to that information, regardless of its accuracy.
While I leave to others to opine on whether this comports with the letter of the law, it certainly violates the law’s spirit. My friend discovered that, on the web, anyone can say anything about you. But is it right that this behavior be condoned and promoted by the federal government?
There are a number of other troublesome changes being proposed by the CPSC’s proposed rule on information disclosure. Comments on the proposal (Docket No. CPSC-2014-0005) are due on April 28. Anyone concerned about agency fairness should read the proposal, go to regulations.gov and submit comments.
Yesterday the CPSC held an all-day meeting to again address ways to reduce the costs of third party testing. Recall that three years ago, in Public Law 112-28, Congress told the agency of its concern that testing costs were imposing an undue burden and directed the agency to identify and implement opportunities to reduce that burden. Over the past three years, the agency has asked for public comment on opportunities to reduce testing costs three, or is it four, times (but who’s counting).
Yesterday’s meeting focused on whether the agency should make “determinations” that certain substances do not and cannot contain phthalates and the various heavy metals listed in the toy standard, ASTM F-963. This inquiry is patterned after the action the agency took in 2009 when it determined that certain substances, such as natural fibers and untreated wood for example, did not and could not contain lead and so therefore there was no need to test for it.
Perhaps the agency will determine that the same substances that are exempt from lead testing should also be exempted from testing for phthalates and heavy metals. If it does, then perhaps that action will provide a bit of relief for those companies that have been engaged in such useless testing.
But I have two questions for the agency:
(1) What took you so long to reach such an obvious conclusion?
(2) What more are you going to do to carry out Congress’ mandate or do you plan to stop there?
The agency was able to make its lead testing determinations very quickly and with a minimum of regulatory gyrations. It has taken the current agency three years to even make an inquiry into questions that should have been very easy to answer. What may come out of this exercise is very minimal relief with maximum patting oneself on the back for reducing testing costs. I do hope the agency proves me wrong.