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CPSC Chairman Calls For More Proactive Safety Practices

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Speaking at the American Apparel & Footwear Association's (AAFA's) annual Executive Summit in Washington, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Chairman Inez Tenenbaum urged manufacturers to build safety into their designs and quality control programs in order to protect consumers and avoid the necessity for product recalls.

"Being proactive and reaching the highest levels of safety is an imperative that I believe the CPSC and industry need to achieve," she said.

Tenenbaum, who has overseen a major reorganization and revitalization of what had become a moribund agency, said a basic goal has been to "restore consumer confidence  in buying products that would not harm their children."

She said that for the first time in years, the commission has its full complement of five commissioners, its staff will be increased from 385 employees in 2008 to 530 by the end of this year, and its 2010 budget is double what it was four years ago. She also said CPSC is working with new technologies to collect and distribute information, is working closer with consumers and manufacturers, and is encouraging a new openness in its deliberations and actions.

"Over these past months," she said, "I have made the commission as accessible to the public as at any time in history. Our public meetings are online -- you can watch our commission meetings every Wednesday morning -- we have hosted public workshops to collect input from the public on major issues and our staff members are presenting useful information to groups like this around the country. At the same time I have made myself accessible to associations such as AAFA."

Tenenbaum outlined steps she believes manufacturers should take in order to be "proactive' with respect to safety. They are:

  • Make products that go well beyond the performance standards for ASTM or other voluntary standards. Don't just meet standards. Go above if you can.
  • Consider potential safety problems in the design phase, well before certification or entry into the marketplace. CPSC is concerned that safety problems may not be detected during existing tests and that's how recalled products end up in the hands of consumers.
  • Have a robust quality control process in place for your factories and your manufacturing line.
  • New thinking is needed for hybrid children's products such as those with unique components. Products like these do not fit nicely into one particular testing or certification program.
Tenenbaum said the CPSC does not want to stifle ingenuity; it just wants to build safety into designs and have "robust conforming and testing processes."

Tenenbaum warned that "we are a commission that has new powers. If you do not meet your obligations to safety and you resist our efforts to conduct a recall, be forewarned this commission stands ready to be creative in the use of our enforcement authorities."

March 16, 2010