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Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was established in 1972 with the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Act. The primary responsibility of the CPSC is to protect the public from unreasonable risks of injury that could occur during the use of consumer products. The CPSC also promotes the evaluation of consumer products for potential hazards, establishes uniform safety standards for consumer products, eases conflicting state and local regulations concerned with consumer safety, works to recall hazardous products from the marketplace, and selectively conducts research on potentially hazardous products. The CPSC promotes the development of voluntary safety standards and under certain circumstances has the authority to issue and enforce standards and ban unsafe products. In all its activities the CPSC strives to work closely with private consumer groups, industry, the media, and agencies of various state and local governments.

Although the CPSC is an independent federal regulatory agency it does not have jurisdiction over all consumer products. Safety standards for trucks, automobiles, and motorcycles are set by the U.S. Department of Transportation; standards for drugs and cosmetics are handled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and standards for alcohol, tobacco, and firearms fall under the authority of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Nevertheless, approximately 15,000 types of consumer products are regulated by the CPSC.

CONSUMER SAFETY LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Early federal consumer safety legislation dealt primarily with foods, drugs, and cosmetics. The Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906 (also known as the Wiley Pure Food and Drug Act) forbade the adulteration and fraudulent misbranding of foods and drugs sold through interstate commerce. Other early consumer legislation included the Meat Inspection Act of 1907 (amended in 1967 by the Wholesome Meat Act). In 1933 legislation was introduced to strengthen the Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906. This legislation mandated the standardized labeling of food products, required that manufacturers prove drugs are safe for the purpose for which they are sold, and established a pre-market clearance procedure for new drug products. Many drug companies opposed this bill; they were joined by much of the nation's print media, which feared the loss of corporate advertising revenue. After a five-year battle in Congress, however, the bill was passed in 1938 as the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Amendments to the bill in 1962 established biennial factory inspections, disclosure through labeling of dangerous side effects, FDA approval of all new drugs, FDA power to remove dangerous drugs from the market, and the requirement that a manufacturer prove that its drugs are not only safe but also effective for their stated purpose.

The scope of federal consumer safety legislation broadened throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The Flammable Fabrics Act of 1953 established safety standards for fabrics used in clothing. The Refrigerator Safety Act of 1956 required that refrigerator doors have inside release mechanisms. The 1962 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act established federal jurisdiction over motor vehicle safety, while the 1965 Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act required the famous "Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health" label. Other pre-1972 consumer product safety legislation included the Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act of 1968, which dealt with radiation emission levels of electronic products, and the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970, which established packaging standards to protect children from potentially hazardous substances.

In 1967 the National Commission on Product Safety was established. It was believed at that time that federal consumer safety legislation was ineffective because it took a piecemeal approach, targeting only specific products for regulation. Supporters of the commission contended that the government needed to establish legislative authority over broad categories of potentially hazardous goods and products. The National Commission on Product Safety was charged with identifying these broad categories of potentially hazardous goods and evaluating existing legal and voluntary methods for securing consumer product safety. The commission subsequently found that "the exposure of consumers to unreasonable product hazards is excessive by any standards of measurement." The commission also asserted that even though consumers must take some responsibility for their own safety, industry must also assume responsibility for the design and manufacturing of safe consumer products.

On the basis of their inquiry the commission recommended the creation of an independent federal regulatory agency and a presidential appointee to the commission to serve as a consumer advocate before the new agency. The commission also recommended that the new agency have the authority to issue safety regulations and standards. Thus, the Consumer Product Safety Commission was created in 1972.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

During its first decades, limited by budgetary realities, the CPSC was slow to establish a significant and active role in regulating consumer safety nationwide. In recent years, however, the CPSC has emerged as a more visible and vigorous protector of public safety. In 2004, for example, the agency (armed with a budget of $59.6 million) issued more than 350 product recalls, including recalls of more than 30 million toys that were deemed to be a potential health hazard to children. That same year it levied approximately ten times the amount of fines on companies that it had assessed a decade earlier. And Manufacturing News reported that the CPSC has dramatically cut its customer complaint response time in recent years. In 2004, for example, its average response time was less than 6 days. In the late 1980s, by contrast, the agency's typical response time was nearly 50 days. In 2004 the CPSC also launched new initiatives designed to address the explosion in e-commerce. The most visible of these efforts is Operation SOSSafe Online Shopping, in which agency representatives investigate unsafe and/or illegal consumer goods that are made available over the Internet. Finally, in 2004 the CPSC established a Small Business Ombudsman to help small companies comply more easily with product safety regulations by providing them with a single point of contact for obtaining information and assistance.

The CPSC consists of five commissioners, each appointed by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of Congress. One of the commissioners is appointed chairman. The CPSC is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, with regional offices in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, and field offices in various cities across the country. The CPSC also maintains a toll-free Consumer Product Safety Hotline (1-800-638-CPSC).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

"Consumer Product Safety Commission is Back On Track." Manufacturing News. 12 January 2000.

Gooden, Randall. "Reduce the Potential Impact of Product Liability on Your Organization." Quality Progress. January 1995.

Postrel, Virginia. "When You're In the Danger Business." Forbes. 25 January 1999.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 2005 Performance Budget (Operating Plan). March 2005.

                               Hillstrom, Northern Lights

                              updated by Magee, ECDI

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United States Consumer Product Safety Commission

UNITED STATES CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is an independent federal regulatory agency whose primary mission is to insure that consumer products are safe to use and will not cause injuries or death.

The CPSC was created in 1972 by Congress as part of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA). Congress directed the CPSC to "protect the public against unreasonable risks of injuries and deaths associated with consumer products." The commission has jurisdiction over about 15,000 types of consumer productsfrom automatic-drip coffee makers to toys to lawn mowers. (Other federal agencies have jurisdiction over certain specific products, such as motor vehicles, foods, drugs, cosmetics, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, pesticides, aircraft, and boats.)

The CPSC enforces other laws in addition to the Consumer Product Safety Act. The Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) requires the labeling of hazardous household substances. A 1988 amendment to the FHSA, the Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act, requires special labeling of certain art materials. The 1994 Child Safety Protection Act pertains to toys, balls, and other possible choking hazards to children. Under that act, the CPSC also developed a bicycle helmet safety standard. The Poison Prevention Packaging Act requires child-resistant packaging for certain drugs and hazardous household substances. The CPSC also issues and enforces regulations under the Flammable Fabrics Act and the Refrigerator Safety Act.

The president of the United States nominates the CPSC commissioners, who must be confirmed by the Senate. One of these commissioners serves as chairman. While the CPSA provides for five commissioners, in recent years Congress has appropriated money only for three.

MECHANISMS OF CONSUMER SAFETY

To accomplish its mission to reduce the unreasonable risk of injuries and deaths associated with consumer products, the CPSC has certain tools at its disposal.

Recalls. The CPSC can initiate recalls of dangerous consumer products, resulting in their repair, replacement, or a refund of their purchase price. Every year, hundreds of products with safety, or potential safety, problems are recalled. The commission is especially vigilant about checking for potentially unsafe toys and children's products.

Mandatory Safety Standards. The CPSC issues and enforces mandatory safety standards. For example, to reduce deaths and injuries associated with children under age five who play with cigarette lighters, a mandatory safety standard was established requiring disposable and novelty lighters to be child-resistant. The CPSC can also ban consumer products if no feasible standard would adequately protect the public, and it can seek civil and criminal penalties against companies that break the law.

Voluntary Standards. The CPSC works with industry to develop many voluntary safety standards. This method was used to develop a voluntary safety standard on baby walkers, making them less likely to fall down stairs. In addition, the CPSC may ensure safer products by meeting with companies and getting them to agree to change their product. This happened in addressing the problem of young children strangling in the loops of window blind and curtain cords. The commission met with manufacturers and persuaded them to eliminate the loops in these cords. The industry later adopted a voluntary safety standard.

Research. The CPSC conducts research on potential product hazards. CPSC scientists and researchers look for new or emerging consumer product hazards and try to find solutions to existing product hazards. Since the 1970s, the CPSC has operated the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which tracks injuries in U.S. hospital emergency departments and allows the commission to make national injury estimates. The NEISS often serves as an early-warning system about problems with specific consumer products.

Communication/Partnerships. The CPSC communicates with and educates the public by working with the media, state and local governments, and private organizations; and by responding to consumer inquiries. The commission also develops cooperative partnerships with businesses and other organizations to create public health campaigns on many issues. For example, in cooperation with a national baby products company, a grassroots program called Baby Safety Showers was implemented. This program, conducted in hundreds of cities across the country, teaches young parents how to keep their babies safe.

The CPSC is located in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., and has field offices throughout the country. To learn more about the commission and to obtain information about a wide variety of home safety issues, consumers can visit CPSC's web site at http://www.cpsc.gov, or call its toll-free hotline at 1800-6382772.

Ann Brown

(see also: Childhood Injury )

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Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), United States

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), United States

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is an independent federal agency designed to protect the public against unreasonable risks of injuries and deaths associated with consumer products. Congress established the commission in 1972, as part of the Consumer Product Safety Act. The CPSC regulates more than 15,000 types of consumer products, from coffee pots to toys. The commission's jurisdiction, however, is limited. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles are governed by the U.S. Department of Transportation; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) oversees cosmetics, food and drugs. Alcohol, tobacco, and firearms fall under the domain of the U.S. Treasury Department.

Since its inception, the CPSC has conducted research on potential product hazards and vigorously pursued and enforced mandatory standards on many consumer products. The Consumer Product Safety Act requires manufacturers to report serious product defects in a timely manner. Failure to do so can result in civil penalties. In 2001, the commission fined Fisher-Price $1.1 million on charges that it failed to disclose a fire hazard in a popular toy. The fine was the largest against a toy firm in CPSC's history.

Product recalls are one of the most familiar actions of the CPSC. Recall information is posted on the commission's Web site and circulated throughout the news media. One of the largest recalls in recent history involved 650,000 baby strollers that collapsed while in use. The CPSC and Ohio-based Century Products announced the historical recall after hundreds of children suffered injuries.

The backbone of the CPSC is the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). The system compiles data on consumer product-related injuries occurring in the U.S., as documented by hospital emergency departments. Such data allow the CPSC to make timely national estimates of the number of injuries associated with, although not necessarily caused by, specific consumer products. CPSC analysts study the data for important clues to the cause and potential prevention of injuries.

The Washington, D.C. headquartered agency has an operating budget of approximately $56 million and employs approximately 480 people. In 2002, President George W. Bush nominated attorney Hal Stratton as the eighth chairman of the agency.

FURTHER READING:

ELECTRONIC:

Consumer Product Safety Commission "Who We Are; What We Do For You." December 12, 2002 <http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/103.html> (December 10, 2002).

SEE ALSO

ATF (United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms)
FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration)
NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board)

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Consumer Product Safety Commission

CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION

The consumer product safety commission was established to protect the public against unreasonable risks of injury from consumer products; to assist consumers in evaluating the comparative safety of consumer products; to develop uniform safety standards for consumer products and to minimize conflicting state and local regulations; and to promote research and investigation into the causes and prevention of product-related deaths, illnesses, and injuries. The commission is an independent federal regulatory agency, established by the act of October 27, 1972 (86 Stat. 1207). It makes information available to the public through its Web site, <http://www.cpsc.gov>.

The commission has primary responsibility for establishing mandatory product-safety standards in order to reduce the unreasonable risk of injury to consumers from consumer products. It also has the authority to ban hazardous consumer products. The Consumer Product Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 2051 et seq. [1972]) authorizes the commission to conduct extensive research on consumer product standards, to engage in broad consumer, industry information, and education programs, and to establish a comprehensive injury-information clearinghouse.

In addition to the authority created by the act, the commission assumes responsibility for the Flammable Fabrics Act (67 Stat. 111; 15 U.S.C. 1191), the Poison Prevention Packaging Act (84 Stat. 1670), the Hazardous Substances Act (74 Stat. 372; 15 U.S.C. 1261), and the act of August 2, 1956 (70 Stat. 953; 15 U.S.C. 1211), which prohibits the transportation of refrigerators without door-safety devices. The act also provides for petitioning of the commission by any interested person, including consumers or consumer organizations, to commence proceedings for the issuance, amendment, or revocation of a consumer product safety rule.

In 1999, the commission introduced a new interactive section for children, on its web site. Geared toward children between the ages of 8 and 12, it features games and puzzles that are designed to test children's knowledge of safety and to teach them safety facts.

cross-references

Consumer Protection.

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Consumer Product Safety Commission

Consumer Product Safety Commission

What It Means

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is an independent agency of the U.S. government whose mission is to protect the American public from unreasonable or significant risks of injury or death associated with more than 15,000 types of consumer products, including toys, strollers, bicycles, electrical appliances, clothing, furniture, and household chemicals. The agency was established in 1972 with the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Act. The CPSC’s jurisdiction does not include certain products, such as guns, cosmetics, pesticides, and cars; these and various other products are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Food and Drug Administration; the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Transportation; and other government agencies.

One of the CPSC’s main functions is to establish product-safety standards to serve as a guide for manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers. Some of these standards are merely voluntary (recommended), while others are mandatory (required). The CPSC also issues product recalls. A recall is a public request for consumers to return a product that has been found to be unsafe or defective, such as a toy that causes choking in a child or an appliance that poses a serious fire hazard. Companies are required to report discoveries of defects and safety hazards associated with their products to the CPSC. The commission also places bans on hazardous materials, such as paint containing lead (a toxic metal found to cause brain damage, especially in children).

In addition to these regulatory functions, the CPSC also conducts research to identify potential product hazards, and it plays a major role in informing and educating the public about product safety.

When Did It Begin

Issues surrounding consumer rights and public safety gained widespread national attention in the United States during the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely as a result of the political activism of Ralph Nader (b. 1934). Now recognized as the country’s foremost consumer advocate, Nader first made a name for himself in 1965 with the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed , a best-selling book that exposed serious safety risks associated with the Chevrolet Corvair and led directly to the passage of national auto-safety standards. In 1969 Nader stirred up further controversy with a small team of law students known as Nader’s Raiders, who published a harsh, embarrassing critique of the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), another government agency responsible for protecting consumer rights.

During this period Nader played an important role in creating public demand for corporate responsibility, which led President Nixon to establish the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in 1970 and the CPSC in 1972. The CPSC reached its height during the Carter administration (1977–81), when its staff numbered nearly 978 people. The agency’s resources were drastically reduced during the Reagan administration (1981–89), however, and since then it has been staffed by less than 500 employees.

More Detailed Information

The CPSC is run by a team of commissioners who are appointed by the U.S. president and confirmed by the Senate. One commissioner is selected to serve as chairman. Although the agency was intended to operate with a team of five commissioners, since the late 1980s Congress has only given it enough funding for three. The CPSC has headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland (a suburb of Washington, D.C.), and numerous field offices throughout the country.

The CPSC takes various actions to accomplish its mission of protecting the public from hazardous products.

  • It develops voluntary safety standards by cooperating with members of particular industries (for instance, the mattress industry or the toy industry) to identify potential risks and figure out how to make a product safer. This cooperative effort is believed to be effective because the industry knows its products best and is able to contribute its technical expertise to the discussions. The CPSC only imposes mandatory standards when it becomes clear that voluntary standards are being ignored or are otherwise ineffective. For example, during the 1970s the CPSC developed a voluntary agreement with candle manufacturers to stop putting lead in candlewicks. Although the voluntary standard seemed to be effective for some years, a study conducted in 1999 discovered that a small percentage of candlewicks still contained lead. In 2003, then, the CPSC imposed a mandatory ban on manufacturing, importing, or selling candles with lead wicks.
  • The commission may enforce mandatory standards by suing violators in federal court (often working with the Department of Justice); if convicted, violators can be forced to pay civil or criminal penalties. The CPSC may also take legal action against companies that fail to report safety hazards discovered in their products.
  • The CPSC issues recalls on hazardous consumer products, often in cooperation with the manufacturer. (Usually the manufacturer is eager to recall the product voluntarily in order to show its customers that it values their safety and considers the hazard in question to be an unusual accident.) When a consumer returns a recalled product, he or she may receive a repair, a replacement product, or a refund. Hundreds of products are recalled every year. Over the course of the CPSC’s history, it has issued more than a thousand recalls, resulting in more than 17 billion individual product units being removed from store shelves. The CPSC places a special emphasis on identifying and recalling potentially dangerous toys and children’s products.
  • In addition to reports from companies themselves, the CPSC obtains information about unsafe products directly from consumers via its toll-free telephone hotline and a claim form on its website. Another of the CPSC’s primary tools for obtaining information about safety hazards is the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which compiles data on consumer-product-related injuries in U.S. hospital emergency rooms and enables the commission to make statistical injury estimates.
  • Beyond the Consumer Product Safety Act, the CPSC also enforces regulations provided by the Flammable Fabrics Act (originally passed in 1953), the Refrigerator Safety Act (originally passed in 1956), the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (originally passed in 1960), and the Poison Prevention Packaging Act (originally passed in 1970). These acts have been variously amended over time.

Recent Trends

When Congress passed the Child Safety Protection Act in 1994, it was considered a major breakthrough for the CPSC. Specifically aimed at preventing choking (the leading cause of toy-related deaths), this legislation requires toy manufacturers to place warning labels on toys containing small parts, such as balls, marbles, and other choking hazards. The label must specify that the toy is not intended for use by children under the age of three. Another key provision of the Child Safety Protection Act was the establishment of a bicycle-helmet safety standard. The standards call for adequate protection of the head and the presence of chin straps strong enough to keep the helmet on a rider’s head even in a crash, collision, or fall. According to some estimates, bicycle helmets decrease the risk of head and brain injuries by 85 percent.

In the first few years of the twenty-first century, the CPSC was also concerned with a growing rise in the number of injuries and fatalities associated with all-terrain vehicles, or ATVs. It was estimated that 740 people died in accidents associated with ATVs in 2003. In 2004 U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated approximately 136,100 injuries associated with the vehicles. About a third of all ATV accident victims were under 16 years old. In the late 1980s the CPSC had negotiated certain safety improvements and implemented a mandatory “consent decree” (a legally enforced agreement) with major ATV manufacturers, but the decree expired in 1997, and safety standards became voluntary. In September 2006 the CPSC launched a major campaign to improve ATV safety. It promoted public awareness of the vehicles’ safety issues and encouraged riders to attend training courses and adopt recommended safety precautions. The campaign also proposed instituting a new set of mandatory safety standards.

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