American Pyrotechnics Association Education & Leadership Conference Keynote Address - Wednesday, February 22, 2012, Las Vegas, Nevada

February 22, 2012

Good morning everyone. Julie, thank you for that kind introduction. Every June, I can count on seeing Julie on the National Mall at the press event that I host, in advance of the 4th of July.

 

Julie does a very good job of representing your association at CPSC’s fireworks safety event and all year long.

 

I want to thank the American Pyrotechnics Association for inviting me to participate in this education and leadership conference. CPSC’s Senior Compliance official Marc Schoem spoke at your conference in 2010, and I’m glad that I could attend this year.

 

Compliance officer and fireworks specialist Demar Granados has also participated in previous APA events and he is here once again to answer your questions.

 

Demar, please stand up.

 

Fireworks entertainment pioneer James Sousa once said, “You can look up at the stars and every night they’re going to be in the same place, but you can launch a six inch shell and you don’t really know what it’s going to look like until it actually performs.”

 

And the fireworks display professional Larry Crump once said, “Fireworks are an art form that uses the night sky as the canvas.”

 

From firecrackers to aerials, from a small spark to the illumination of the night sky, the products all of you make and sell are part of Americana.

 

I’m sure we can agree that as long as fireworks are an American tradition, the safety of fireworks must be the highest priority of your industry.

 

And I believe that this conference is a symbol of your commitment to improving fireworks safety in the United States.

 

I want to be a partner in advancing the cause of fireworks safety—advancing the cause by educating the industry about the federal regulations that you must follow, and educating consumers of the rules they must follow.

 

As part of an industry that is valued at nearly $1 billion, I know all of you want to stay competitive. While you work to keep up with increased consumer demand, it is vital that you increase your knowledge and adherence to federal safety rules.

 

I’m referring not only to CPSC’s pyrotechnic composition and labeling rules, but also to rules promulgated by DOT, ATF, and OSHA.

 

And it is also vital that APA members, along with my agency, continue to educate consumers about how to use legal fireworks safely and what are the consequences of purchasing and using illegal or display fireworks.

 

CPSC’s message to consumers who use legal consumer fireworks is to “put safety in play.” We want consumers to follow their state and local ordinances and to keep sparklers and bottle rockets out of the hands of young children.

 

CPSC’s message to consumers on illegal and professional fireworks is crystal clear:

don’t make them,

don’t purchase them, and

don’t go near them.

 

As we all know, the consequences of putting an M1000 or quarter-stick into the hands of a consumer can be deadly.

 

So, we must be committed to stopping the manufacture and sale of these devices to unlicensed customers.

 

In the last decade, CPSC, ATF, and the Justice Department formed a strong partnership centered on enforcement and the prosecution of individuals involved in illegal manufacture and distribution.

 

Ken Shearer, John Rasmus, Archie Crouch, and Gerald Dunnegan paid a price and went to prison for their criminal activities and for endangering public safety.

 

Let’s keep their names and others like them in the past.

 

We know there are some bad actors who scour the Internet looking for fine aluminum and potassium perchlorate, so they can make flash powder in their basement or garage.

 

We’ve got to work together to make sure the industry’s reputation remains strong.

 

Quality control and quality assurance for your industry means ensuring the right amount of powder is loaded into rockets, all reloadable tubes and shell devices are built to be stable and not tip over, and all fireworks ignite as intended.

 

These have been among the problems that led to recalls in the past. Let’s make sure they remain problems of the past.

 

A new device that CPSC, APA, and the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory have identified as a product of concern is “adult snappers.” Last summer, Demar and CPSC’s Office of Compliance wrote a letter to your industry clarifying the labeling and pyrotechnic composition limits for these devices.

 

The letter advised that staff considers adult snappers, although fuseless, to be the equivalent of more powerful firecrackers.

 

These fuseless fireworks have a significantly higher charge than the traditional snapper. And, these devices are not manufactured in the same way as a traditional “snapper.”

 

This product contains several milligrams of pyrotechnic composition, and CPSC staff considers them to be within the regulatory definition of a “consumer firecracker.”

 

Our concern is that these devices have an explosive force that produces a report that could seriously injure the user, if they are not labeled properly.

 

I am aware that the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory and your association want tougher action to be taken against these products. I applaud your call for action, and I assure you that we intend to inspect these products closely at the ports and will explore other regulatory options.

 

Even though it’s only in February, today’s program marks the second major talk concerning fireworks that I’ve given this year.

 

Last month, I travelled to Liuyang City in China to get a firsthand look at the fireworks industry. I met with some of the world’s leading manufacturers and exporters.

 

As you may know, Liuyang City in Hunan Province is the global center of fireworks production. The city also is the birthplace of fireworks and is an important contributor to China’s cultural heritage of manufacturing innovation.

 

During my visit to China, it was clear to me that the manufacturers are striving to ensure that locally made fireworks have a reputation for high quality and safety.

 

I found the manufacturing process to be more rudimentary than I expected. The employees face difficult working conditions, as they hand pack the shells and feed in the fuses.

 

Because all fireworks are assembled individually by hand, the industry has a challenge in ensuring uniformity and compliance. Constant training and education is required to ensure that all fireworks are compliant with U.S. standards.

 

John Rogers from AFSL invited me to speak at a symposium of manufacturers and government officials; and, I’m glad that I also took time to visit some factories and inspect the labeling on products headed to our ports.

 

At CPSC, we focus a great deal of time and considerable resources on China because China has become a predominant exporter of consumer goods.

 

CPSC’s data show that products from China comprised almost half of the $630 billion in consumer product imports entering the United States in 2010.

 

If current trends hold—and I expect they will—China will soon export more consumer products to the United States than all other countries combined.

 

Chinese manufacturers dominate the export market in some very important product categories that fall under the CPSC’s jurisdiction.

 

For fireworks, that domination is practically absolute.

 

More than 98 percent of the consumer fireworks purchased in the United States in 2010 were made in China.

 

About three-fourths of our fireworks consumption was sourced from Hunan Province.

 

As I hope all of you know, CPSC works closely with AQSIQ, our Chinese government counterpart. We have made fireworks one of the top four products of our safety initiative with AQSIQ, along with toys, electrical products, and cigarette lighters.

 

For CPSC, our steadfast commitment is to keep Americans safe from products that pose unreasonable risks of injury or death. AQSIQ is also focused in many facets of consumer safety and quality control.

 

China’s industrial health and the stability of its employment depend very much on the overall reputation of the goods they produce, the status of individual Chinese industries, and the good name of the individual manufacturer.

 

While CPSC and AQSIQ work to improve product safety with somewhat different motivations, everyone benefits from the end result.

 

CPSC has been conducting training sessions for stakeholders in China for many years. But, in recent years, we have increased the frequency, scope, and depth of our training in China.

 

A little over one year ago, I was in Beijing to officially open the CPSC’s first-ever foreign office. It was only natural to open our first foreign office in Beijing, given the growth and importance of Chinese consumer goods in the U.S. market and our increasingly cooperative relationship with the AQSIQ.

 

The Beijing office is functioning fully and has been very busy over the past year. In just the past 12 months, our two staff members stationed in Beijing have provided training on U.S. product safety requirements to more than 16,500 industry representatives in China—2,500 in person and more than 14,000 via live webcasts.

 

Two of those training programs occurred in Liuyang—in August and October 2011. CPSC’s Regional Product Safety Officer educated Chinese manufacturers about the latest fireworks regulations and initiatives.

 

We have encouraged Chinese manufacturers to ensure that there is uniformity of training for their technicians who may be operating in the various factories.

 

Additionally, we encouraged testing to more stringent internal standards as a method of reducing variability. In addition to educating manufacturers, CPSC and AQSIQ fireworks experts participate in digital video conferences focused on improving fireworks safety. We also share enforcement information in an effort to identify and work with companies that violate U.S. fireworks standards.

 

I believe that education and training—here in Las Vegas, in Liuyang, or Beijing—are a winning approach to enhancing compliance with U.S. requirements.

 

I trust that the outreach and education that CPSC has done in China has aided the Chinese government and manufacturers’ understanding of the safety requirements that must be followed in order for products to reach U.S. store shelves.

 

I also believe that CPSC’s approach has helped manufacturers direct their attention toward best manufacturing practices, which is a principle that I have been promoting—and is supported by AQSIQ.

 

Now CPSC’s Beijing office is actually part of a new and larger office that we have established at CPSC—the Office of Education, Global Outreach, and Small Business Ombudsman.

 

By establishing an office dedicated to addressing the questions and concerns of the regulated community, CPSC can facilitate the transfer of knowledge across industries and borders.

 

Ultimately, this will create safer products through better educated manufacturers.

 

I am hopeful that this new office also can collaborate with colleges and universities on relevant educational courses in the United States and in China.

 

In fact, CPSC is already involved in ongoing conversations with several institutions of higher learning to explore the development of meaningful certification programs related to best manufacturing processes in China.

 

It is my hope that this initiative can result in academia playing a leading role in training a future generation of experts in supply chain management that focuses on safe products.

 

The United States and China restated our common commitment to promoting best manufacturing practices during a highly productive consumer product safety summit with AQSIQ, held in Washington, D.C., last October.

 

Now, let’s talk more about the impact of fireworks here in America.

 

There is no doubt that fireworks bring smiles and good times to millions of Americans. But, the ingredients in fireworks that make them so fun and exciting also create safety hazards.

 

Our latest statistics indicate that fireworks were involved in an estimated 8,600 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms in 2010.

 

When we closely examine injury statistics that occur over the 4th of July holiday, we find that children younger than 15 years old typically account for about 40 percent of the injuries. This statistic held true over the 4th of July holiday period in 2010.

 

In fact, if we look at per capita injuries for the 4th of July holiday period in 2010, children ages 5 to 9 years old had the highest injury rate from fireworks of any age group. They were followed by children ages 10 to 14, and then children ages 15 to 19.

 

Fireworks are associated disproportionately with injuries to children, as compared to adults.

 

I appreciate that the APA’s safety publication, “Ensuring a Sparkling Good & Safe Time,” gives many of the same tips as CPSC, aimed at keeping kids safe.

 

Sparklers are of special concern because they were associated with an estimated 1,200 emergency room visits during the 4th of July holiday in America in 2010—700 of which involved children under 15 years old. In fact, sparklers account for nearly one-third of all types of consumer fireworks injuries.

 

The Federal Hazardous Substances Act requires sparkler packaging to state clearly 'CAUTION use only under [close] adult supervision'.

 

I think more can be done by my agency, your association, and the National Council on Fireworks Safety to improve the safety of sparklers and how consumers use them.

 

The Internet has facilitated greater exposure to safety information about sparklers, but it also has created challenges for us.

 

It is especially important that we warn parents about copycat behavior by teenagers who go on YouTube and watch how to make sparkler bombs. The videos are extremely troubling.

 

In 2012, we intend to work with the APA to develop a sparkler-specific education program. Our goal will be aimed at reducing the number of sparkler-related injuries to children.

 

On the manufacturing side, in Liuyang, I encouraged the makers of sparklers to use their creativity and engineering skills to develop and produce safer sparklers.

 

So that all fireworks flow from manufacture to import to retail, I emphasized to the audience in Liuyang, that fireworks devices must have a warning or caution label that describes the hazard associated with the device.

 

In addition, the label must have information about proper storage, handling, and use.

 

Failure to have the proper label can and has caused detention of shipments at import.

 

While I believe most fireworks are manufactured and labeled properly, there is more work to be done. CPSC has made this point to AFSL and their customers. It is no secret that AFSL has certified products do not have a perfect compliance record.

 

We know that many importers depend upon the third party testing process managed by the AFSL. Using AFSL’s test results is intended to allow the U.S. importers to certify that their fireworks imports meet all U.S. fireworks safety requirements.

 

We need to increase confidence in the AFSL mark, by seeing a decrease in the violation rate of consumer fireworks that CPSC tests. This same principle certainly applies to imported fireworks that are not run through AFSL.

 

It is important for all of you to know that CPSC is continuously improving its criteria for selection and evaluation of which shipments to test as we detect and detain products at import.

 

The three primary violations detected are: (1) too much report charge in aerial fireworks devices; (2) improper fuse burn times; and (3) improper cautionary labeling.

 

In addition to our talks with AFSL, CPSC maintains an active dialogue with officials at Chinese government laboratories to ensure that fireworks shipments to the United States comply with our regulations.

 

From manufacturing to testing, from import to distribution, CPSC is trying to work with the fireworks industry to create a global system of safety.

 

In closing today, I would like to share some of the other safety issues besides fireworks that CPSC staff is working to address. Many of our talented employees are working on safety initiatives aimed at making CPSC more proactive and the global leader in product safety.

 

The safety agenda I would like share with all of you will guide the CPSC in the months and years ahead. It is an agenda that advances consumer protection.

 

High on the agenda are a series of projects that once completed, have the potential to save hundreds of lives and prevent thousands of injuries each year.

 

I'm referring to:

 

Continued federal rulemaking for juvenile products. In just a few hours, the Commission is expected to approve a brand new federal standard for bed rails. New standards are also in the works for play yards, bassinets and cradles, strollers, and infant carriers this year. Our dedicated professional staff will continue to work with all of our stakeholders on these important rules for juvenile products in 2012 and beyond.

 

Portable gas generators, which were involved in 676 carbon monoxide related deaths in the United States between 1999 and 2010. Our mechanical engineers are working with college engineers to develop a cut-off switch that will shut down a generator if oxygen levels are depleted in a contained space. We have required a danger label that says, "Using a generator indoors can kill you in minutes," but we need to explore technical solutions that can save lives.

 

Recreational off-highway vehicles are a popular off-road product in the United States, but they come with risks—risks compounded by the fact that these vehicles allow for passengers. There have been more than 115 deaths over the past eight years related to the use of these off-road vehicles. We started rulemaking in December 2009, and we are moving toward a proposed rule to make these vehicles safer.

 

All-terrain vehicles or ATVs remain a serious concern to the agency and me. With more than 800 deaths per year, ATVs are the second most deadly product that we oversee. We have been doing grassroots education and researching technical ATV safety issues for years, and we will continue to expand this effort. This summer, we will also consider a final rulemaking aimed at establishing greater protections for young riders.

 

Upholstered furniture is involved in tens of thousands of fires and hundreds of deaths each year in the U.S. And we know that 90 percent of the addressable deaths are related to smoldering fires, such as those caused by cigarettes. CPSC staff has proposed a rule that would limit the fire spread in upholstered furniture without the need for manufacturers to use flame retardant chemicals. After 16 years of trying, I am committed to pursuing the approval of a final rule while I am Chairman, because I believe it could go down as one of the top lifesaving rules in CPSC’s history.

 

A new rulemaking project is on table saws. Would you believe that 11 people suffer amputations every day in the United States from using power saws that cut wood? It's true. We are exploring solutions at CPSC to save people from these life-altering injuries, and we are also currently seeking comments from our stakeholders on how the safety of these products can be improved.

 

A common attribute that runs through all of the product hazards I just discussed is that we have team leaders and technical staff at CPSC who are experts in their field.

 

I'm proud of the work they are doing, and I know they want to bring closure to their projects and prevent injuries and deaths from defective juvenile products, rollovers, crashes, CO poisonings, fires, and finger amputations.

 

Reducing the number of fireworks-related injuries is also a priority for staff. It has to be, because exposure to fireworks—as popular as they are—is sure to increase, due to the success that the APA is having in overturning fireworks prohibitions at the state and local level.

 

Let’s work together to make sure that as the law allows for more use, we do not see more injuries.

 

These are my reflections on the work we are doing at CPSC and what our goals are for the year ahead. They are ambitious, and require integration and collaboration, and seek to bring mutual benefits to consumers and industry.

 

I hope you can see that we have already made great progress at CPSC in establishing a system of safety for American consumers—a system built to last.

 

And I believe we will continue to make progress in advancing consumer product safety over the next few months and years.

 

Thank you all for attending this event today and for providing me with some time to speak to you.

 

I look forward to meeting you and hearing any ideas you have for enhancing the safety of fireworks.

 

Thank you.