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PRM Group Hosts Luncheon With CPSC Commissioner Northup

May.02.2012

On Monday, April 30, 2012, Crowell & Moring's Product Risk Management Group hosted an interactive discussion and luncheon featuring Commissioner Anne Northup of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The event was attended by Crowell & Moring attorneys, expert consultants, industry representatives, and members of the press. The Commissioner shared some of her views on Commission decision-making, CPSC priorities, the impact of CPSC policies on businesses and consumers, and current consumer regulatory issues. She also engaged in a dynamic question and answer session with members of the audience on a range of issues, including border control and enforcement of imported products, CPSC database critiques, and foreseeable and unforeseeable product misuse. As a former member of Congress, current CPSC Commissioner, and mother of six, Commissioner Northup shared her unique perspective on the economic and practical challenges that can arise with regulatory intervention.

  • Commissioner Northup elaborated on three top priorities for any company subject to the CPSC's jurisdiction:

    • Maintaining and developing good record-keeping practices. Commissioner Northup emphasized that record-keeping practices are essential to many aspects of compliance.
    • Understanding that CPSC's "high degree of assurance" standard requires testing multiple product samples and following up as appropriate if, for example, initial test results show results extremely close to and exceeding the current limits.
    • Being continuously aware of instances of product failure.

  • Commissioner Northup noted that the current 2-2 party split at the Commission has fostered an increase in cooperation and collaboration, and she urged businesses which may be facing problems of cost or supply unavailability to take advantage of the present climate to seek applicable exemptions through filing petitions. She also urged companies to begin preparing now, if they have not already, for the continued testing requirements going into effect in January 2013, warning that the new requirements are detailed and that many businesses, especially smaller manufacturers, may not be prepared for compliance.

  • Commissioner Northup identified two key factors that raise her level of concern regarding product issues:

    • The severity of injury; and
    • The foreseeability of risk (including risk stemming from misuse that is prevalent enough or likely enough to become an expected outcome).

  • Commissioner Northup also encouraged companies to submit comments in CPSC rulemaking proceedings regarding how the Commission’s proposed regulations would impact their business operations. She noted that the Commission welcomes real-world examples of how compliance with CPSC regulations affects day-to-day operations. Commissioner Northup explained that these examples are critical to the Commission in developing new regulations and updating current ones.

  • Commissioner Northup also engaged in a discussion regarding concerns for the operation of the CPSC's public database—www.saferproducts.gov. Three primary concerns were discussed. First, that the database does not provide meaningful information to consumers because it does not identify the rate of occurrence for reported issues, often lacks model-specific information, and is difficult to navigate in a user-friendly way. Second, it was pointed out that the database absorbs a great deal of agency resources that could be better used to address more direct safety concerns. And third, it was explained that developing and maintaining the database has been extremely expensive yet has yielded cumbersome technological results.
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