ICPHSO's Asia-Pacific Consumer Product Safety Symposium Keynote Address - Monday, October 31, 2011, Seoul, South Korea

October 31, 2011

Good afternoon everyone. Ann, thank you very much for that kind introduction, and I also want to thank your organization, Underwriters Laboratories, for your contribution to this conference and for your commitment to establishing product safety standards that save lives.

 

To the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards and Korean Federal Trade Commission, I say kam-sa-ham-ni-da for being such gracious hosts and for bringing together the product safety community in the spirit of cooperation.

 

I am proud to share with all of you that this is the fifth ICPHSO conference in which I have participated during my nearly two and a half years as Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

 

From Orlando to Toronto, from Washington, D.C. to Seoul, wherever ICPHSO is being held, that is where the conversation on product safety is happening, and I want to be part of the conversation.

 

At CPSC, we view ICPHSO as one of the top forums for educating and engaging the global safety community in a conversation about the latest developments with the Commission.

 

Joining me here in Seoul is a delegation of staff who symbolize the experience, insight, and integrity that are the hallmarks of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

 

You have already heard from Marc Schoem and Rich O'Brien this morning, and I hope you will attend the additional sessions that Marc, Rich, and Jonathan Midgett will be participating in this week.

 

During my time with you today, I would like to focus on three main areas:

 

first, are the remarkable achievements CPSC that has recorded throughout this year;

 

second, is a report on our expanding efforts to promote product safety throughout this region; and

 

third, and I would like to provide insight on the future work of the CPSC.

 

Let's start with a discussion of CPSC's accomplishments this year. This has been an outstanding year for my agency. CPSC approved or put into effect new requirements that will strengthen the product safety net for children and provide safeguards that parents have long sought.

 

In fact, just a few days ago, we celebrated quite an achievement at CPSC. On October 19, 2011, CPSC voted to adopt requirements for continuous, independent, third-party testing of toys and other children's products before they reach consumers.

 

I view this accomplishment as a monumental day for the safety of America's children and one that parents and grandparents have waited for years to happen.

 

With that this accomplishment, we approved what many consider the capstone of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 - a sweeping child safety reform law, that is known as the CPSIA.

 

By requiring independent, third-party testing of all regulated children's products, we are demanding that companies take safety "to the source."

 

The U.S. Congress made it a requirement that CPSC establish independent safety checks, and I believe that charge is a perfectly reasonable requirement when you about talking about children's safety.

 

Our children deserve this protection.

 

The final third-party testing rules we adopted will fulfill the pledge that Congress made to parents through the passage of the CPSIA and the promise that CPSC made to children when we started to implement the law.

 

I believe we took a giant step forward in transforming the children's product safety framework in the United States - from the reactive system that led to the "Year of the Recall" in 2007 - to the new, more proactive framework that will reduce injuries and save more lives.

 

It may well be the case that accredited laboratories in your home country are already third-party testing children's products intended for the United States.

 

This is because active testing and certification requirements are already in place for lead paint, cribs, pacifiers, metal jewelry, small parts, and other baby products.

 

And beginning on January 1, 2012, the requirements for initial testing of children's products by independent, third-party testing and certification for lead content, phthalates, and the mandatory toy standards will become effective in the United States.

 

What CPSC just approved is periodic and continuous testing to the applicable standards for ALL regulated children's products, and we set an effective date of early 2013.

 

What we did not do with this rule is try to dictate one approach to fit every manufacturing regime.

 

Instead, we said that periodic testing should occur at least once a year.

 

But, if a manufacturer has an appropriate production plan in place, then continuous testing only would be required at least every two years.

 

And if a manufacturer has its own accredited ISO 17025 certified laboratory, then periodic testing only would be required at least every three years.

 

What is important to know is that the testing interval must be short enough to ensure that, if the samples selected for testing pass the test, there is a high degree of assurance that the other untested products, comply with the applicable standards.

 

I believe we struck the right balance between recognizing best practices in manufacturing and testing, and giving parents confidence that a system of safety is being established for children's products.

 

Following the vote on this rule, a father who had lost his daughter last year in a baby monitor cord strangulation incident, wrote me an e-mail.

 

He said: "You know as well as I that the child product industry will work with government, test labs, and others over the years to improve the new certification and testing rules.

 

Your votes today and your efforts in getting the recent array of child safety laws and rules in place will forever reduce the accidental injury and death rates of children. That is a perfect example of good government and the good side of human nature."

 

Those words mean a great deal to me and they mean a lot to the hard-working staff at CPSC.

 

Now, let me share another important date with you.

 

I believe that June 28, 2011, also will be considered a defining date in consumer product safety history in America.

 

The new crib safety rules that CPSC approved in December 2010 for manufacturers and retailers are considered to be the toughest in the world, and they went into effect on June 28.

 

These were the first major upgrades to the federal crib standards in the United States in 30 years.

 

And these new rules are in memory of the many children in the United States who were taken too soon, and they are designed to prevent tragedies in the future.

 

So many people contributed to this victory for children - the voluntary standards organization ASTM International, retailers, child care centers, hotels, and motels, and others.

 

The industry has really taken center stage in helping CPSC to deliver on our promise to reduce deaths and injuries from defective cribs.

 

I believe industry should be commended for its efforts and that includes the manufacturers and accredited laboratories in Asia that are making and testing to our standards new product models.

 

Keep up the good work - there are a lot of new parents depending on you.

 

The new crib rules represent a major deliverable in our implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Yet, CPSC has had other notable accomplishments this year in implementing the CPSIA that I would like to share with all of you.

 

These include:

 

The approval of mandatory standards aimed at keeping drawstrings out of children's outerwear and keeping shock protection devices on hair dryers. Both of these rules were established using new authorities granted to CPSC under the CPSIA.

 

The approval of a final safety standard for toddler beds and proposed rulemaking aimed at creating a federal safety standard for bed rails. Both of these rules contribute to our effort to establish special requirements for juvenile products.

 

The approval in mid-July of procedures that will require independent safety testing to the mandatory toy safety standard, known as ASTM F963. As I mentioned earlier, this testing will start on January 1, 2012.

 

The approval in July of procedures that will require independent safety testing to ensure that companies meet strict limits on the use of phthalates in children's toys and child care articles. Six phthalates are banned in toys and child care products in the United States, if they exceed 0.1 percent. Testing to these limits will also be required beginning on January 1, 2012.

 

One other important determination was approved by CPSC back in July.

 

We found that there was insufficient evidence to support a conclusion that manufacturers of children's products sold in the United States could not meet a total lead content limit of 100 parts per million.

 

Simply stated, the impact of our determination is that the total lead content limit in the United States is now 100 parts per million for children's products, which is one of the lowest levels in the world.

 

This will allow consumers to have confidence that lead should be virtually nonexistent in toys and other children's products made on or after August 14 of this year.

 

Now that this requirement is in effect, we should step back and commend makers of various toys, zippers, buttons, and nursery products - commend them for responding to CPSC's call to "get the lead out" and for delivering nearly lead free products to the market.

 

From port inspections to retail surveillance, our screening data show that the majority of children's products comply with the new lead standards - this is a big win for children.

 

We really made a strong push this summer to add safeguards to the marketplace and to give businesses the predictability that they need.

 

Along with offering predictability, we also tried to show that CPSC can be reasonable.

 

Many small businesses in the United States expressed their appreciation to CPSC for listening to their concerns and providing relief from the testing and certification requirement until after the upcoming holiday season.

 

This also provided time for Congress to act and amend the CPSIA, providing more flexibility for more permanent relief for these same small businesses.

 

As I have stated many times, if we all work together, we can make the product safety laws work as intended.

 

So far, I have spoken about the new requirements that we have established back in the United States. Now, I would like to talk about CPSC's efforts to work directly with regulators, manufacturers, and exporters in this region to "take safety to the source."

 

Why has CPSC made such a significant investment in staff and time to help Asian manufacturers understand our rules?

 

Why has CPSC placed so much emphasis on working with Asian regulators to embrace best practices?

 

It all tracks back to 2007 and 2008.

 

The wave of Chinese toys made with lead paint, cribs built with defective parts, and toys that come with loose, powerful magnets led to an overwhelming number of recalls - and an overwhelming expression of distrust and dissatisfaction by consumers.

 

Well, during my tenure as Chairman, we have proven that we can learn from the past, do a better job of serving the interests of families, and build a true system of safety.

 

Our progress in promoting and facilitating good manufacturing practices, better compliance with safety standards, and best practices in product safety in this region has been noteworthy in recent years.

 

As the ICPHSO community knows well, the times have changed and the rules have changed. And as the rules have changed, manufacturing has needed to change.

 

When CPSC established new rules for children's products, many companies throughout Asia changed the way their products are designed, manufactured, and tested.

 

Although there is still work to be done, the progress I have witnessed in this region shows no sign of slowing down - and that is great news.

 

In fact, I believe positive change will continue to take hold at a faster pace.

 

Because of more stringent U.S. safety requirements for toys and children's products, enhanced training by CPSC, enhanced enforcement by Asian regulators, and enhanced manufacturing processes, we will not go backward, we will only move forward.

 

The continued growth of imports into the U.S. demands that we keep moving forward.

 

Since taking over as Chairman in 2009, I have stated repeatedly that although the product safety problems in 2007 and 2008 hurt consumer confidence, they did not stop the demand for goods from China and other Asian nations.

 

CPSC's data shows that imports from China comprised about 47 percent or $300 billion of the $630 billion worth of all consumer products that came into the U.S. in 2010. Japanese imports represented 4.5 percent, Taiwan's imports reached 3 percent, and Korea's accounted for 2.8 percent.

 

2010 was actually the first time that China's consumer product imports exceeded the other top 20 nations exporting to the United States.

 

In looking at our data, toys, apparel, fireworks, and consumer electronics are among the top product categories of imports into the United States.

 

Eighty-nine percent of all toys imported into the United States in 2010 were made in China. Those toys were valued at $19.8 billion. Japanese imports of toys represented another 3 percent.

 

Those numbers more than justify the investment that CPSC has made in working with Asian toy manufacturers to encourage compliance with the stringent lead and phthalates limits in the U.S. and the mandatory toy safety requirements.

 

With a value of $32.5 billion, 41 percent of all apparel sold in the United States was imported from China in 2010. Imports of apparel from Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh together represented nearly 20 percent.

 

This is why we work so closely with the governments and apparel manufacturers in China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh to educate about the hazards and standards associated with drawstrings, small parts, and flammability.

 

CPSC has been conducting training sessions for stakeholders in China for many years.

 

But, in recent years, we have increased the frequency and breadth of our training in the entire region, and this has been a key element of our stronger relationships.

 

In just the past 12 months, we have provided training on U.S. requirements to more than 6,000 industry representatives - either in person or via a webcast.

 

These educational sessions have enhanced the regulated community's understanding of the safety requirements that must be followed in order for products to reach U.S. store shelves.

 

In particular, this approach has helped CPSC and our counterparts in East Asia turn more of our attention to best manufacturing practices.

 

We are currently working together to implement globally recognized best practices in product safety from end-to-end in the supply chain - from design specifications to manufacturing practices to testing protocols to export procedures.

 

We restated our common commitment to this principle in a highly productive consumer product safety summit between CPSC and AQSIQ that was held earlier this month in Washington, D.C.

 

I know some of our colleagues from AQSIQ are here today, and I want to say thank you once again for strengthening the cooperation between our agencies.

 

During my visits over the past few years to Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Wuxi, Singapore, and Hanoi, I have continuously focused on the best practice of building safety into consumer products.

 

This approach is consistent with my belief that we need to be proactive in addressing safety issues and emerging hazards at the source.

 

One of the most exciting advances that CPSC has made in recent years to be more proactive and engaged in the region is the opening of our first foreign office in Beijing.

 

The Beijing office is fully functioning and through dialogue with foreign regulators and stakeholders, Jeff Hilsgen, our Regional Product Safety attaché for the Asia-Pacific region and Jenny Wang, our Regional Product Safety Specialist, are promoting two-way communication, regulatory alignment, and best practices.

 

Jeff and Jenny are doing such great work and they are a great resource if you need additional information about CPSC's requirements or training tools.

 

Jeff is here with us today. Jeff, please stand and be recognized.

 

Back in May, Jeff was here in Seoul for an outstanding two-day visit with government officials, trade and business associations, and laboratory officials.

 

These meetings and training sessions demonstrated CPSC's commitment to strengthening our partnership with the product safety community in Korea.

 

Now our Beijing office is actually part of a new office that I established at the agency - the Office of Education, Global Outreach, and Small Business Ombudsman.

 

This new office is tasked with staying committed to the vision of achieving best manufacturing and best import practices in Asia and the United States.

 

And our International Programs staff will coordinate even more closely with regulators, manufacturing associations, importers, exporters, and all of you.

 

I believe that 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.

 

This, I believe, will ultimately create safer products through better educated manufacturers.

 

I am hopeful that our new Office of Education also can collaborate with colleges and universities on special educational courses, domestically, and internationally.

 

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.

 

This is my vision of the future. It is ambitious, it requires integration and collaboration, and it seeks to bring mutual benefits to consumers and companies who do business in the United States and Asia.

 

Finally, this afternoon, I would like share with all of you the vision I have for what CPSC will focus on in 2012.

 

One might say that this is a vision that goes beyond the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

 

Those who say that the CPSIA has kept us from carrying out our mission have not shown the proper respect. Respect for all that we have accomplished in implementing the CPSIA, but also

 

respect for our compliance officers, who secure hundred of product recalls a year;

 

respect for our engineers and health scientists, who are confronting acute and chronic hazards; and

 

respect for our port inspectors, who keep finding violative products within mountains of cargo containers.

 

Many of our talented employees are working on safety initiatives that go beyond the CPSIA - 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 my agency 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:

 

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. 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 me and the agency. With more than 800 deaths per year, ATVs are the second most deadly product that we oversee. We have been doing grassroots education for years, and we have proposed 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, as I believe it could go down as one of the top lifesaving rules in our history.

 

And our newest rulemaking project is on table saws. Would you believe that 11 people suffer amputations every day in the United States from injuries related to using these 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 start preventing rollovers, crashes, CO poisonings, fires, and finger amputations.

 

In closing, I hope you can see that we are making great progress at CPSC in establishing a system of safety for American consumers.

 

From the promising plan in place with our Chinese partners that encourages the use of best manufacturing practices - to our inspectors using advanced tools and technologies to give us a solid line of defense at the ports - to the creation of lifesaving standards, we are being more proactive and less reactive.

 

As we continue our pursuit at CPSC to be the global leader in product safety, I hope you will join us and share your expertise and insights, so that the wins we achieve for consumers can be celebrated by all.

 

To current president Mark Dewar, incoming president Joan Mattson, and the entire ICPHSO board, I thank you once again for the invitation to visit this beautiful city and speak to all of you today.

 

I hope everyone enjoys the remainder of the conference.