Consumer Specialty Products Association Conference Keynote Address - Thursday, September 23, 2010, Bethesda, MD

September 23, 2010

Good morning everyone. Adam Selisker, thank you very much for that kind introduction. I would like to recognize the leadership that Adam has demonstrated as the chairman of your association and as a first responder in his community.

 

As a long-time fire chief in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Adam has rescued countless individuals in times of peril — from burning homes and car crashes, to a neighbor experiencing health problems.

 

With Adam being a fire chief and Chris Cathcart volunteering his time and expertise as a pilot on Angel Flights, the association demonstrates its personal commitment to public service.

 

At CPSC, we have had a very good year. It has been a year of rebuilding and strengthening our connection with consumers.

 

We have increased our staffing level to its highest point in the last 21 years. We opened our first foreign office in Beijing, and we added more staff and technologies to our import surveillance program.

 

As we look to the future, I am pleased to share with all of you that the Commission is about to establish a new, five year strategic plan. This plan is designed to ensure that CPSC remains the global leader in consumer product safety.

 

This new plan was developed with significant input from industry stakeholders, consumer groups, and agency staff. It builds upon my vision of a CPSC that is not only better focused on injury prevention but also working proactively with global manufacturers and suppliers to build safety into their products. In addition, the new plan envisions:

 

A CPSC that develops strategic relationships domestically and globally to advocate for and educate on those best manufacturing practices that ensure safe and compliant consumer products.

 

A CPSC that pushes for retail shelves to be stocked with products that comply with strong performance standards and takes decisive action against companies that violate safety rules.

 

The new CPSC is working to build trust and credibility with consumers and the regulated community by breaking out of the beltway bubble and going to the source.

 

Over the past year, I have travelled from Savannah to Singapore, from Houston to Hong Kong and Hanoi, from Chicago to Columbia … Columbia, South Carolina, that is.

 

Over the past year, I have met with clothing seamstresses, ATV makers, product testers, port inspectors, foreign regulators, concerned consumers, and parents who have lost children due to product defects.

 

All of the travelling and all of the meetings have been dedicated to generating a greater understanding among these constituents that the regulatory safety net in our country is broader and more tightly woven than ever before.

 

Now, I believe that our new vision at CPSC has many parallels with your association's commitment to ensuring the health and safety of your customers and the sustainability of your membership.

 

Sustainability in the current economy - domestically and globally - is a tremendous challenge. Margins are tight, material costs are ever increasing, and consumer spending is nowhere near where we all want it to be.

 

I understand that compliance with new manufacturing and testing requirements can cause a natural tension with regulators in these tough economic times. I have seen first hand the impact and strain that our economy has had on companies large and small.

 

Neither the Administration nor I want regulations that drive companies out of business.

 

But I am here today to say that if you continue to invest in safety, as exemplified by your Product Care program, then CPSC will do its part to be practical in establishing new rules and be fair in enforcing those rules.

 

A 2005 survey by the National Federation of Independent Business found that the top reasons companies gave for investing in workplace safety were:

 

cutting workers' compensation costs;

 

the feeling that investing in safety is the "right thing to do," and

 

increasing profits.

 

It wasn't until number four that respondents cited complying with federal and state safety rules. These results are not surprising, however. The motivation for a company to create a culture of safety, whether internally or externally focused, starts with a belief that the return on investment will be seen on the bottom line, in the workforce, and with the brand.

 

I can stand here and tell you that there are consequences for not complying with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, and the Poison Prevention Packaging Act. It's true, there are consequences. But I know those words alone are not enough to motivate you.

 

I want you to see that CPSC is serious about providing predictable rules, and that we can educate everyone about how to comply with those rules, then you could be a partner with CPSC in developing a culture of safety.

 

To demonstrate that CPSC is willing to be part of the solution, I am pleased to announce that the Commission approved last night the creation of the Office of Education, Global Outreach, and Small Business Ombudsman.

 

This office will coordinate and provide education and outreach activities to domestic and international stakeholders, including manufacturers, retailers, resellers, small businesses, foreign governments, and consumers.

 

We realize that many manufacturers may not know where to turn for information on our regulations or might experience difficulty accessing the information they need to fully address safety in the manufacturing process.

 

Many of you here today are product safety managers or legal counsel. You may even work for a company that can afford to retain outside counsel. However, there are quite a few companies we regulate that do not have a full complement of technical or legal experts on staff.

 

And I've been in enough meetings with associations and companies to know that sometimes even the experts disagree on the interpretation of a regulation.

 

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

 

The Office of Education, Global Outreach, and Small Business Ombudsman has the potential to focus on important issues, such as quality assurance in the manufacturing process. CPSC has long believed that enhanced quality assurance programs assist manufacturers in producing products that comply with relevant safety standards.

 

I know that for many of you, proper material specifications, especially those that involve chemicals, are critical to the safety of your end product. Ensuring the quality of your raw materials and tracking their handling through the supply chain is an identified component of your Product Care program.

 

Many of the components of Product Care are centered on quality assurance; and I commend Chris for his leadership in creating the program and congratulate all of you who have institutionalized it.

 

As for distributors and retailers, this new CPSC office will be tasked with ensuring that information about recalls is sent out in a timely manner. Retailers will also be informed about how to respond in a timely manner to safety alerts issued by CPSC that affect products they sell.

 

Another important component of this new office will be the Small Business Ombudsman. With the passage of the CPSIA, we need a full time Small Business Ombudsman at the agency. We need a public servant who is dedicated to advancing the cause of safety by serving the nation's many small businesses.

 

When we dedicated resources in the past to tailoring information to the needs of small businesses, the payoff was significant. The Small Business Ombudsman will develop new sources of information and provide guidance specifically for small batch manufacturers. We will keep the information and guidance updated, so small batch manufacturers can understand and comply with applicable requirements.

 

During my travel overseas, I learned early on how much foreign governments rely on the United States for help in developing their product safety systems.

 

When I travelled to Hanoi earlier this year, it was quite memorable. The Vietnamese government could not have been more welcoming. In fact, they would have been happy if other agency officials and I could have stayed for a few months to help companies in their country learn U.S. safety requirements.

 

We know that there is a shift occurring, a shift that is leading certain manufacturing sectors to transfer their factories from China to Vietnam, Bangladesh, and other low-cost countries.

 

We need to be ready to help these developing economies have the necessary controls in place, so that the import problems we experienced previously do not materialize again in other countries.

 

This new Office of Education, Global Outreach and Small Business Ombudsman will serve as a coordinated business unit to carry out this activity and allow CPSC to enhance its outreach to the international community. By working with foreign regulators, we can help them develop effective product surveillance strategies, product testing methods, and voluntary and mandatory product safety standards.

 

After meeting recently with deans, faculty, and students at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, I am hopeful that the new office also can collaborate with colleges and universities on special projects domestically and internationally.

 

I am very excited about the potential of this new office, but it is important to note that it is not open for business yet. We will be staffing the office and finalizing its mission.

 

The need for this office is great. The role it can play in preparing companies and countries for success by adhering to U.S. safety requirements is a win-win proposition.

 

I need the help of CSPA and its members to make this endeavor a success. We need you as a partner.

 

We need to learn more about the Product Care system and how other industries and other countries could benefit by understanding your approach.

 

And in turn, CPSC could be an important voice in the countries where your products are manufactured. We could promote quality assurance in the design and specifications and promote reasonable testing throughout the manufacturing process.

 

Help us as we work to be a part of the solution.

 

We will keep you apprised of developments as the office is organized, and we will let everyone know when the office begins operations.

 

As we approach the close of fiscal year 2010, I would like to share with you what our small, but dedicated staff has achieved this year:

 

New federal standards were finalized that improve the safety of infant baby walkers and baby bath seats.

 

By the end of the calendar year, we expect to have new and improved crib safety rules that will help ensure that all children have a safe sleep.

 

I called for and the Commission began rulemaking on recreational off-highway vehicles, after it was brought to my attention that there were no standards and a dramatic rate of rollover related deaths and injuries.

 

We conducted an industry wide recall of 50 million Roman shades and roll-up blinds with a free repair for everyone.

 

We moved swiftly to get ahead of the emerging issue of cadmium in children's jewelry and are pushing for the creation of a strong standard.

 

We launched a multimillion dollar information and education campaign called Pool Safely this year to reduce child drownings in pools and spas.

 

We created CPSC 2.0, our social media initiative, which is putting lifesaving information before millions of online consumers.

 

We joined forces with federal and state partners to address health and safety concerns associated with Chinese drywall in thousands of homes in the south. This has been the most expensive and expansive investigation in CPSC history.

 

And this will be appreciated by many of you - we joined forces with the Poison Prevention Council to educate parents, grandparents, and caregivers on the importance of keeping medicine and chemicals in child-resistant closures to keep kids safe.

 

We are truly an agency on the rise, and we believe that in fiscal year 2011 we will prove, once again, that consumers get a lot of value from the money allocated to us.

 

In closing, I want to commend the organizers of this "CPSC A-Z and Beyond" conference - especially the person who made the brilliant decision to have the event in this hotel.

 

If you don't know already, our headquarters is just a short walk down the street.

 

By holding the conference so close by, you will have the opportunity to hear from some of the best and the brightest at CPSC during today's sessions.

 

I'm going to leave it to the experts to talk in greater detail about the CPSIA, FHSA, PPPA, the public database, our import surveillance program, and other exciting agency programs.

 

Please attend these other sessions. I assure you they will be informative, and you will walk away with a better understanding of what we do every day, and what you need to do to stay in compliance.

 

I hope that we can work together to maintain the confidence of consumers in the safety of products in the marketplace.

 

Thank you so much for allowing me to speak to you this morning; enjoy the rest of the conference and your time in beautiful Bethesda.

 

Remember, CPSC Stands For Safety.