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CPSC Slow to Issue Product Safety Warnings

We expect state and federal agencies charged with protecting public safety to warn and protect us from dangerous products and defects in a timely way.

That is particularly the role of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). In the story below, grieving parents of a baby who died by suffocation in a Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper in 2017 say the agency knew about previous deaths and injuries but the product was still on the market.

The baby sleeper in this case was eventually recalled by Fisher-Price but only after information about its safety issues and reported deaths was obtained by Consumer Reports and made public. Here is some history.

*MOUSE PRINT:

The federal law being called into question here, section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act, has been controversial for years. It basically requires the CPSC to give manufacturers at least 15 days advance warning before it goes public with news of a safety defect from which the public could learn the name of the manufacturer and product involved. The manufacturer can then respond to the CPSC with its position, and object to the release of the information.

Since the CPSC is surprisingly not empowered to order a product recall without going into court to sue for one, the agency and manufacturer are often at loggerheads for years over the issue. This is why when you hear about a recall, it is typically the manufacturer “voluntarily” doing it and not the CPSC. Additionally, some say if manufacturers know that the product defect and injury reports they file with the CPSC are not going to be easily made public that incentivizes them to continue to make such important disclosures.

While the TV report above asserts that section 6(b) is a gag order being placed on the CPSC, a former assistant general counsel at the agency says it is not. He asserts the real problem at the agency is that it fails to understand and use its existing authority.

No matter, in the current Congress, the Sunshine in Product Safety Act was filed to abolish section 6(b), but it has gone to committee and not likely to pass.

Whether section 6(b) is preventing the CPSC from naming names and alerting the public early to safety hazards, or they are not effectively using their own rules and tools, the result is the same. We deserve better protection.

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12 thoughts on “CPSC Slow to Issue Product Safety Warnings”

  1. I feel for the people involved in this case, but I don’t think the answer is to give unilateral power to an unelected government agency to force the recall of a product without having to present due cause in court.

    There may be a discussion on changing how the organization operates or how interacts with customers, but my line is drawn well before the ability of the CPSC being able to just call up a company and force that company to recall it’s product.

    Reply
    • and while the case is dragging slowly through the legal system, how many more babies will die, 5, 10, 40? What limit would you set?…or no limit. Do you really think the CPSC would arbitrarily shut down a product, just because it feels like it?

      Reply
      • While I feel for every single child that dies, “Think of the children” is a rhetorical cliche that we should not be founding policy on. If your barrier for what should and shouldn’t be allowed is “has it caused the death of any children?” You would have to shut down every pool and lake in the country.

        As I said, I’m open to a discussion on what rules and procedures we can change to improve things, but a unilateral law giving an unelected body the ability to force recalls is beyond what I would consider reasonable. In consideration of your concern for future damage, maybe we could discuss giving them the ability to suspend sales for a (short period of time) and expediting a court hearing before a judge. Not a final ruling, but just a presentation of evidence to allow a judge to oversee the evidence before a final decision is made.

    • “Unelected” isn’t the same as “unaccountable.” I don’t want product recalls handled individually by Congress or the President, who are our elected federal officials (in the same way that I don’t want those elected officials to be personally in charge of deciding, for example, which drugs to approve for which medical conditions, or inspecting meat.

      Yes, it’s not inconceivable that some federal agency might someday get too aggressive with enforcement. But today’s reality is that many agencies are pathetically toothless. The EPA, FDA, FCC, FTC, CPSC, and the FAA (among others) are impotent and/or victims of regulatory capture, letting big businesses run roughshod over the public interest.

      And as Len pointed out, requiring court approval to take a dangerous product off the market will effectively doom many people to injury or death, as the cases and appeals drag on.

      Reply
      • I have news for you, the EPA inspectors can be easily influenced to “alter” or “not report” the violations they find. I know this because I have personally seen it. Companies do “favors” for inspectors who are willing to overlook violations by taking them on vacations such as extravagant hunting trips (here in Texas). It’s so commonplace it will make you sick.

  2. Its strange, that Many gov. offices have been cut back so much in the past 30 years by the congress, that many can not do their jobs. The 3 agencies that are supposed to monitor our food from the fields to our tables, can only inspect 8% of facilities per year, but then ask the corps to run independent inspections from 3rd parties.
    Its really telling when you see Lettuce contamination warnings, because of Cross contamination, where there should never BE cross contamination between certain food products.

    Reply
  3. Well the solution is easy. It’s also happened before. We’ve had one where a single greedy peanut producer in Georgia refused to recall tainted peanut butter.
    Once word got out on social media, NO producer was able to sell their peanut butter anywhere for months after, as sweeping generalizations and exaggerations made consumers think no product was safe.

    So consumers either get timely accurate info from the government, or businesses risk being crippled financially by rumors.

    Reply
  4. The most powerful path available to the public is:
    1) Spread the news – tell everyone about this and any other similar instances
    2) Boycott Fisher-Price products
    Follow up by contacting your Federal representatives to:
    1) Demand investigation and accountability of the company
    2) Demand investigation and accountability of the gov’t agency who is tasked and paid to safeguard the public. Overhaul or disband.
    3) Enact stricter penalties on businesses that produce unsafe goods, maybe estop all operations for a length of time in addition to adding oversight.

    And please don’t equate deaths in lakes and pools to death by using unsafe products, especially when the manufacturer is aware of the defect, as is the agency supposedly monitoring said safety, or lack thereof. They are as different as peaches and limes.

    Reply
  5. Santa Monica13m ago
    Below comment was published in the NYT 2/26/2022. Corporate America has many routes to take advantage of the poor consumer. An agency with enough power to protect consumer’s interest is now a must.

    The New York Times
    ISABELLA SIMONETTI AND JULIE CRESWELL
    NOV 1, 2022
    FOOD PRICES SOAR, AND SO DO COMPANIES’ PROFITS
    Your comment has been approved!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with The New York Times community.

    The New York Times

    Your comment has been approved!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with The New York Times community.

    SIT | Santa Monica
    I’m someone who spent over forty years of his life working or partnering with most of the big names in the consumer goods Industry. I understood for a long time the subtle packaging terms of weight and value for money. This reflect itself as one tool of price manipulation. This is not a sole tool they use to take advantage of the poor consumer. Other tricks are always they can pull up their sleeves. As an example sell a chocolate bar with three fingers instead of four for the same price. Compromise on the quality and packaging of tissue papers, changing size of a bottle or a can in the beverage business, creating B brands to protect and control their share in the market, are just a few examples of the many tools they use to hedge against inflation instead they inflame it. Among senior executives, this they call, success, good management skills, therefore warrant a good bonus and share option. The one thing absent in all this is a consumer protection agency with enough power to protect both the interest of the consumers, and the economy. It was good days for us for America and the world when Ralph Nader was the tzar of this agency in the JFK administration.

    Samir I Toubassy

    I have some ideas starting from the grassroots to face this vicious attack against global manufacturers. Will be happy to share.

    Reply
  6. Before Shrinkflation started a few years ago pasta products were typically sold in 16 ounce (1 pound) packages, now it is 12 ounces and the price has gone up.

    Reply