Highlights from ICPHSO 2011
The International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (“ICPHSO”) hosted its annual meeting and training symposium on February 22-25, 2011, in Orlando, Florida. Crowell & Moring attorneys Bridget Calhoun and Natalia Medley attended this year’s meeting, along with representatives from the U.S. government, foreign governments, industry, and consumer interest groups, among others.
Highlights from this year’s meeting included:
CPSC Day – Thursday, February 24 was “CPSC Day,” where representatives from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) took center stage. Speakers included CPSC Chairman Inez Moore Tenenbaum, General Counsel Cheryl Falvey, Executive Director Kenneth Hinson, Office of Compliance and Field Operations Deputy Director Marc Schoem, Defect Investigations Division Director Dean Woodard, and newly-appointed Small Business Ombudsman Neal Cohen. CPSC Commissioner Bob Adler presented on how to negotiate with the CPSC during the fourth and final day of the conference. The following are some of the key points from CPSC Day:
- Reporting firms are expected to move more quickly on voluntary product recalls. There will be less time built in for negotiation than there has been in the past. CPSC staff also reminded industry that timely reports are necessary and every recalled product file is evaluated for late reporting violations.
- There will be an increased focus on toxic metals beyond lead and cadmium. During Chairman Tenenbaum’s speech, she identified antimony, arsenic, selenium, mercury, and chromium as of particular concern, stressing that they all needed to be removed from children’s products.
- Mandatory standards for infant swings, bed rails, and play yards are planned for this year. It was noted that, due to the strict deadlines set in Section 104 of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (“CPSIA”), the CPSC has been moving much more quickly on standards for durable nursery products in the past two years.
- Firm site inspections (particularly post-recall) are on the rise, as CPSC field staff conducted more inspections last year than the agency has in years, and the CPSC intends to continue those efforts.
- A new Director of the Office of Compliance and Field Operations is expected to be appointed within the next month or so. Currently, Robert Howell is serving as the Acting Director since the departure of John (“Gib”) Mullan.
CPSC’s Publicly Available Database
- Since the soft launch began on January 24, 2011, hundreds of consumer complaints have been received. The CPSC acknowledged that it has experienced a few glitches, such as needing more server space to accommodate consumers uploading photographs. CPSC staff also spent time listening to issues manufacturers have encountered during the soft launch. The CPSC is working to resolve the problems by the time the database is officially launched on March 11, 2011.
- The CPSC encouraged manufacturers to register for the database, explaining that notices sent through standard mail will slow down the process. It was reported that approximately 700 companies have registered so far but that number should be over 1,000.
- Manufacturers voiced concerns about posting comments to the database such as the fear that any content posted to the database may be used against the manufacturer if litigation arises.
- CPSC staff noted that a manufacturer is not limited to the number of comments that it may post to the database and that a firm may wish to provide updates about incident investigations on the database.
- CPSC staff further noted that integrated teams of compliance and technical staff will evaluate consumer reports of harm to determine which reports will be further investigated by field officers. The key factor the staff will consider is the severity of the injury or risk of injury reported.
Voluntary Standards – CPSC staff and others stressed that, while voluntary standards are helpful, they are generally regarded as the minimum for product safety. Agency staff stated that compliance with a voluntary standard does not ensure that a product does not contain a defect that may create a substantial product hazard or creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death. The CPSC also pointed out that it has decreased its involvement in voluntary standard activities over the past year.
Social Media – Industry and government representatives continued to stress the important role that social media can play, both in reaching consumers about product issues and identifying emerging product hazards by monitoring comments on social networking sites and blogs. CPSC staff noted that it plans to work to increase the Commission’s social media presence in the coming months and stated that they have been promoting the public database to consumers through social media.
International Regulations and Compliance
- Consumer product safety is an international issue, as manufacturers manage global supply chains and authorities around the world adopt and refine their own consumer product regulatory regimes.
- Representatives from Canada, Australia, and the European Commission, along with CPSC staff, spoke about key features of their respective jurisdiction’s consumer product laws. This panel included a comparison of each country’s reporting triggers and requirements.
- CPSC staff spoke about its ongoing international efforts. It is currently working with the European Commission, Canada, and Australia to harmonize baby sling, booster seat, and window blind cord standards. In Asia, the CPSC has opened a new office in China with two permanent employees and has two people working in Vietnam.
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