Dozens of dangerous products that violate federal safety regulations are finding their way onto store shelves, and hundreds of other recalled items that have been banned for sale in the United States are being sold overseas. A recent investigation by Consumer Reports, based on a decade’s worth of government public safety records and shopping at more than one dozen stores, found that weak laws and lax federal enforcement are allowing some manufacturers and importers to flaunt federal and voluntary industry safety standards. As a result, according to Consumer Reports, consumers are buying potentially lethal products.
Some of these include: defective extension cords and electrical items that can overheat and burn; fake ground-fault circuit interrupter plugs that malfunction and fail to trip when there is an electrical overload; toys that can cut, choke or poison young children; counterfeit batteries that leak acid, overheat and spark; and disposable lighters that leak fuel and explode. Many of these good are counterfeits, using bogus labels designed to look like well-known brand-name items.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) maintains that it is as vigilant as it has ever been at policing store shelves for unsafe products. Yet a drastic decline in the CPSC’s budget and staffing, has resulted in inadequate and inconsistent enforcement of safety laws and policing store shelves.
When Consumer Reports visited dollar stores, drug stores and other discount stores, they found 48 toys, nearly one-third of the total purchased, violated mandatory federal or voluntary industry safety standards. In addition, the magazine found that inspections of stores and factories had dropped from 1,130 in 1999 to 500 in 2004.
A survey of the agency’s records also found that between 1994 and 2004, about 900 products that the agency deemed unsafe were exported to other countries. Allowing manufacturers to continue to export unsafe products removes any incentive they may have to mend their ways, and provides a back door to get rid of the product and still make a profit.
How can you keep your children safe from these products?
- Access the right websites: Do not rely on manufacturers’ websites to give unbiased information. Instead, try the government or a non-profit organization. Some suggested websites include the American Academy of Pediatrics and a non-profit group, Kids in Danger, that notifies parents of recalls.
- Get automatic notification: To be notified automatically when a product is recalled, call the CPSC at 1-800-638-CPSC and ask to be put on the agency’s mailing list, or sign up via its website
- Beware hand-me-downs: Check any hand-me-down products or items from second-hand stores with the CPSC. One CPSC study found recalled products in 69 percent of second-hand stores nationwide. An example of the precautions you should take includes asking if a used child’s car seat has been in an accident. The seat may have internal cracks, and, as a result, may not protect your child in an accident. If you are considering giving your used products to a friend or to a thrift store, check with the CPSC to make sure the items haven’t been recalled.
- Resist impulse shopping: Research all products before buying. If you see an item you love, write down the name and model number of the product, then go home and start your research. The CPSC’s website is a good place to start.
- Beware bad track records: Some popular products such as baby walkers, bath seats, hard-handled infant carriers, infant swings and toddler beds have proven dangerous or deadly. You may want to consider not purchasing them.
- Ask questions: If a product’s instructions are confusing, call the manufacturer. If you have a second-hand product that does not include instructions, call the manufacturer and request a new set of instructions.
If your child is injured as a result of some dangerous product, call the CPSC to report the injury. Other children may have experienced a similar injury from the same model product, and your call could help prevent future injuries. Parents should also notify manufacturers about product hazards, and tell manufacturers that the CPSC will be notified about the product in question.