Last week the Consumer Product Safety Commission proposed new factors for determining when manufacturers have to report defective products to the agency.

The proposal would allow companies to weigh factors such as whether they complied with voluntary and mandatory safety standards and whether the product poses less risk because it is old and not being sold or used much anymore. The home-appliance and toy industries have been lobbying the CPSC since 2004 to spell out just which factors count in determining whether a product is unsafe and a candidate for a recall. Consumer groups charge that the substantive changes were proposed by industry groups and with the intent to shift blame for mishaps to consumers from manufacturers.
Changes Made In Response to Industry Requests
Companies are required to report to the agency immediately if they suspect a problem with a product, particularly if it poses the risk of serious injury or death. Most recalls are “voluntary” agreements, but the agency sometimes presses companies to make recalls and has the last word when it comes to imposing penalties.
Last year, the CPSC was responsible for some 400 recalls. About 27 percent of them were toy-related, and 7.5 percent were appliance recalls.
The agency assessed its largest civil penalty last year — $4 million against Graco Children’s Products Inc. for failing to report safety incidents, injuries and a fatality related to its products. The agency also has a new program for retailers to report defective products.
The proposal will allow factoring in the nature of the risk of injury, how the product will be used, who is exposed to the risk, case law and the commission’s judgment. The proposal adds four criteria: the obviousness of the risk, the adequacy of warnings from the manufacturer and instructions, consumer misuse of the product, and whether misuse was predictable. The proposal also revises how the CPSC would calculate whether a product is defective, an important threshold determination that can lead to a recall or fines for late reporting.
Consumer Groups Fear Sfaety Compromised
Donald Mays , Consumers Union senior director of product safety, said standards and warnings often don’t offer adequate protection to consumers. The consumer federation and Consumers Union said they will oppose finalizing the proposal. Comments are due June 26.

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