Keynote Address, ICPHSO/International Cooperation on Product Safety Wednesday, October 28, 2009, Toronto, Canada

October 28, 2009

Good Morning. Thank you Rachel for that kind introduction. I would like to congratulate you, Rachel, on becoming the President of ICPHSO and commend you for your efforts to advance child safety through your work at CFA.

 

I am so pleased to be here and to be able to participate in ICPHSO’s first ever meeting in Canada and its 6th international meeting and training symposium. I also would like to recognize the sponsor of the conference, CSA and the co-host of the conference, Health Canada. Health Canada has been one of CPSC’s closest allies in product safety enforcement. Not only do we have monthly coordination conference calls, but we are also partnering with Health Canada on joint recall announcements. Over the last year, more than a dozen recalls have been announced jointly, drawing significant media attention in the United States and here in Canada.

 

Sandra Wright and Rob Ianiro are here today from Health Canada. Sandra and Rob, thank you for your leadership, here in Canada and around the world.

 

Working with Health Canada improves the efficiency of our agency operations and businesses that sell their products in both countries appreciate the fact that they only have to negotiate a recall one time. We are looking at exploring further partnerships with our counterparts in other countries as well.

 

You will have to forgive me if I appear a little bleary eyed this morning, but I just arrived last night from Beijing, where I along with other CPSC staff participated in the 3rd U.S. –Sino Safety Summit. So the title of this conference – International Cooperation on Product Safety - takes on a special relevance to me.

 

The Summit was designed as a platform for CPSC and our Chinese partner agency, AQSIQ, to signal in the strongest possible way that times have changed and we have a new policy norm and we intend for companies to get in line. We need to move the emphasis away from simply inspecting final product and put much more effort into building safety into the product in the first place.

 

Chinese suppliers and U.S. importers are now on notice from both governments that it is a mistake to depend on good intentions and a few final inspections to ensure compliance with safety requirements.

 

At the Summit, AQSIQ has joined us in stating that we expect companies to implement proven best practices, such as factoring the potential for misuse into design, putting strict controls on components and other inputs, and conducting enough sampling and testing to ensure that all of the product coming off the line is safe for consumers

 

In China, I emphasized two key messages to AQSIQ, our government counterpart, and to Chinese manufacturers and suppliers:

 

First, that I believe that there is no inherent conflict between trade and safety. This is particularly true if we keep in mind the interconnection of markets in all regions of the world, and the responsibilities we all have to each other.

 

And second, that the best way to protect families is to build safety into products during design and manufacturing.

 

The Chinese government was very responsive to our concerns and during the Summit we mapped out a way forward that makes real progress toward safer consumer products. AQSIQ, for its part, will hold Chinese suppliers responsible for implementing best practices in manufacturing. This way safety – and compliance with export market requirements – is built into the products they are making or for which they are supplying materials.

 

For CPSC, we identified that employing best practices to ensure product safety is not only the manufacturer’s job. U.S. importers also have a major responsibility. They must take steps to ensure that U.S. safety requirements are built into their products at every step of the way, including at the very beginning of the process as the product’s design specifications are developed.

 

CPSC will hold U.S. importers accountable if their products are hazardous or if they violate U.S. products safety requirements. We will enforce in a firm but a fair manner the new federal law that puts strict limits on lead and phthalates in children’s products and makes all toy requirements mandatory.

 

As I have consistently stated, we intend to enforce this law that Congress put in place in a firm but fair manner. CPSC also has a federal rule making underway that puts U.S. importers on notice. In cases where CPSC may impose a financial penalty on a U.S importer for violations, CPSC may to take into account whether the importer has safety or compliance programs in place and whether they conducted pre-market and production testing to minimize safety risks.

 

U.S. importers should assure themselves that their suppliers are complying with all U.S. safety requirements. CPSC is also developing a new handbook for importing safe consumer products to help guide importers.

 

We have been working with AQSIQ and Chinese manufacturers so that they, too, understand and comply with all U.S. safety requirements.

 

During the Summit meetings, we have made progress in six key areas: lead in children’s products, toys, cigarette lighters, fireworks, electrical products, and all-terrain vehicles. ATVs were new to the agenda at this Summit.

 

I know ATVs garnered a great deal of attention in Canada this past weekend with the major news report by CTV. There have been far too many ATV-related deaths in the US and in Canada.

 

ATVs must operate as safely as possible. We are working with AQSIQ to make sure ATVs exported to the U.S. meet new mandatory performance standards and that Chinese ATV makers have an approved action plan.

 

We spent an entire day in Shanghai conducting a training seminar and I visited an ATV factory and testing facility to make sure that Chinese suppliers understand U.S. requirements. We hope that our efforts in China will pay dividends for the safety of ATV riders not only the United States, but also here in Canada.

 

I would like to point out that the safety of off-road vehicles is very important to CPSC. The Commission has approved the start of federal rulemaking on Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles. After seeing that there were no adequate standards in place foir ROVs and more than 100 riders and passengers have died using these vehicles, I directed staff to begin the rulemaking.

 

Our work with the Chinese government and Chinese manufacturers is bearing fruit in the area of toy safety. In fiscal year 2008 there were more than 80 toy recalls in the United States, with nearly half of those recalls related to lead violations. I am pleased to report that in fiscal year 2009, there were about 40 toy recalls, with only 15 lead violations. Our goal is to have no toy recalls and no lead paint violations, but we are certainly moving in the right direction.

 

We truly live in a global community, as evidenced by the number of attendees have come to Toronto from around the world. And we know product safety is soaring these days from North America to the EU to Asia.

 

With the passage of CPSIA, the proposed product safety legislation introduced here in Canada, , it is more important than ever for industry, consumer groups, and government to work together. We must assure that there is a transparent and fair handling of the vast responsibilities we are being given. Serving as the Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission puts me in a position to oversee a reshaping of consumer product safety issues affecting the global community, and I take my responsibilities seroiously.

 

My interest in working with foreign regulators and with important stakeholders like all of you, is motivated by a desire to reduce product safety hazards in the United States and to increase the confidence of American consumers. To achieve this goal, I established three key priorities for my tenure as Chairman:

 

creating a more open and accessible CPSC,

 

enforcement of U.S. product safety laws fairly but firmly

 

and expanding education and advocacy for consumers.

 

In all of these areas, I am focused on doing my utmost to protect the health and safety of children and families. As a former educator, this has been at the heart of my life’s work.

 

The United States Congress showed their commitment to reinvigorating CPSC by passing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act last year. Among other things, the CPSIA gave CPSC substantial new enforcement authority, authorized increased staffing, increased public disclosure of emerging product safety issues, and provided new mandatory standards for children’s toys and juvenile products.

 

The CPSIA recognizes many of the challenges the agency has faced over the years – and demands that we rebuild the Commission to adapt to an era of consumer products that come from all over the world. The CPSIA also recognizes the need to take proactive measures to protect consumers from new and emerging hazards.

 

My top priority since assuming the Chair of the Commission has been meeting the statutory deadlines for rules and reports required by the CPSIA. Through the hard work of CPSC staff, 12 substantive rules and policy guidance documents have been released since I was sworn in on June 23.

 

In each of the rulemaking proceedings that we have worked on, I have directed CPSC staff to work closely with all impacted stakeholders. It is important to me to ensure that the rules we implement remain true to the statutory intent of the CPSIA, while also minimizing undue burdens on small businesses and other stakeholders.

 

To this end, I have requested that the CPSC staff engage in public hearings and workshops with all of our outside stakeholders on important issues facing the Commission. We have already had a number of public meetings and have upcoming hearings on unblockable drains and the public database. I hope that many of the people in this room will participate in or attend these public meetings and hearings.

 

Also, I am happy to announce here today that the Commission intends to host a two day public workshop on the testing (or 15 month rule), a rule that I know many of the people in this room are paying very close attention to. This two day workshop with CPSC staff will be in addition to the normal public engagement and outreach we normally engage in during our rulemaking. We understand the importance of this rule and the public database, and we want to make sure that we get them right.

 

One of the mandates of the CPSIA that does not receive enough attention is the call to rebuild CPSC’s internal business processes. CPSC’s information technology systems are truly the lifeblood of my agency. Sadly, these systems were neglected for far too long.

 

The result is a patchwork of systems that make it very difficult for CPSC staff to “connect the dots” between different incidents, identify patterns of defects, and respond quickly to emerging hazards.

 

This has led to a situation where CPSC is constantly in the position of reacting to events – rather than receiving new hazard information and proactively targeting harmful products before they flow into the stream of commerce.

 

Congress recognized the critical need for infrastructure modernization in the CPSIA. Congress directed the agency to upgrade its infrastructure and create a product incident database that is easily searchable by the public.

 

In response to that mandate, the agency is developing a single, integrated Risk Management System (RMS) and a public database that will allow greater access to consumer product safety information.

 

CPSC staff will work with the consumer advocacy and business communities globally to establish a searchable product incident database that is trustworthy and informative. I support the creation of the database, as I believe it furthers the vision of creating a more transparent CPSC and a more informed consuming public.

 

CPSC continues to look at all of its business processes in order to identify improvements. Improvements that will provide the agency with the tools necessary for identification of emerging hazards, such as:

 

using predictive data-mining technologies to analyze the increasing amount of information the agency receives,

 

and identifying emerging hazards in real-time.

 

It is impossible to overstate the essential nature of these improvements and their ability to transform the way my agency receives, reviews, and acts on new and emerging threats.

 

Another area that we at CPSC are rethinking is the singular approach used in the past to identify risks and simply recall products when necessary. This is one aspect of enforcement that will not work if pursued alone. Our recognition of this reality in a global marketplace is making the Consumer Product Safety Commission of today a much more efficient agency than in the past.

 

In addition to trips to working with suppliers and manufacturers on good manufacturing practices, we have created an Import Surveillance Division which is working closely with U.S. Department of Homeland Security at U.S. ports. Our import safety inspectors are tasked with identifying products coming into the United States that may either be defective or violate one of our regulations. We are taking action at the ports before the products are distributed.

 

The CPSC is given gain access to a special Homeland Security database which contains advance manifest information for shipments entering the United States.

 

Additionally, our Field Investigators are conducting more surveillance activities in support of CPSC projects than ever before. In a matter of a few days, we were able to inspect more than 1200 public pools and spas around the county in an effort to determine conformance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Act, a very important child safety law.

 

Our surveillance disclosed about an 80% conformance rate, which is a credit to implementation of the law. Those public pools and spas not in conformance are working with us to bring their pool drains into conformance, so we can eliminate entrapment hazards and deaths and injuries in the future.

 

Drain entrapment is a serious and hidden hazard in pools and during my first week at the agency I made it clear that anyone not in compliance with the law needed to close their public pool or spa immediately.

 

Our field investigators are also actively responding to the imported drywall issue by following up on hundreds of consumer complaints in an effort to assist our technical staff. And in a continuing effort by CPSC to go to the source of problems, a special team traveled to China to get a first-hand look at various mines and plants that make drywall.

 

I too have had a first-hand look at this issue, having visited numerous homes, where I have met families devastated by this issue in terms of their health and finances. We are working tirelessly with other federal agencies to bring answers and solutions to these affected families. An important announcement with some results of our testing will be made to US homeowners tomorrow.

 

We are also working more closely than ever before with State Attorneys General in the United States, who we view as our partners in product safety. Rather than competing with these important state enforcement officials, we have reached out to them and will partner with them on specific enforcement activities.

 

As I stated earlier, education and advocacy is a top priority of mine. I believe that notices about recalls and other hazards are only effective when all impacted consumers actually hear about them and respond to our alerts.

 

Through network television appearances and newspaper interviews, I have worked to reach millions of American families with information about dangerous cribs, bassinets, and window blinds. These are products that have killed young children, and we are working tirelessly to inform parents and caregivers about recalled products that need to be removed from homes or repaired to keep kids safe.

 

We also launched an exciting new social media campaign last month, called “CPSC 2.0.” The initiative is modeled after the White House’s use of social media and I want everyone is this room to sign up today to receive our tweets.

 

In all seriousness, please check out our OnSafety blog, our new YouTube channel, the great photos of CPSC on FlickR (`flicker`), our streaming recall news on our widget, and our OnSafety page on Twitter.

 

These platforms provide a low cost, highly effective and creative way to reach millions of families who have never heard of CPSC before. Once you see the YouTube video we posted about furniture and television tipovers, you’ll be hooked.

 

Let me close this morning by sharing that one of the first groups I met with after becoming Chairman was Board Members from ICPHSO. I was truly impressed with the diverse backgrounds each of the members brought to the organization. I was especially impressed with the ability of the organization to facilitate discussions and network among many different stakeholders in a forum like this and the meeting to be held in Washington, D.C. in February 2010.

 

While there are many trade associations and organizations targeted to specific industries and activities, from what I have been told only ICPHSO exists for the primary purpose of bringing together all interested parties on consumer product safety issues - and for that I am most appreciative.

 

After serving as Chairman for these past four months, I come to realize that the staff who serve at CPSC, many of whom are here today, include some of the hardest working and most dedicated people in the U.S. government.

 

Through their efforts we are turning the corner and heading in a new direction. A direction that will keep children safe in and around their homes and give parents and consumers confidence that the products they see on store shelves meet the best standards in the world and have been independently tested.

 

We want consumers to know and believe that CPSC Stands For Safety.

 

Thank you for inviting me here today and I hope the remainder of the conference continues to enhance product safety around the world.