International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization Conference Keynote Address - Thursday, March 1, 2012, Orlando, Florida

March 01, 2012

Good afternoon everyone. Michelle, for the second straight year, I want to thank you for that kind introduction.

 

This outstanding organization is well served by having you on their Board, and CPSC is well served by having your support in the Wisconsin Department of Consumer Protection.

 

So let's give Michelle a round of applause for all of her efforts to improve the health and safety of consumers.

 

This is my sixth ICPHSO conference.

 

Six conferences in less than three years.

 

I'm doing all I can to keep pace with Marc and Carol and Ross. Also, I want to recognize my colleague, Commissioner Bob Adler, who has attended this conference in Orlando for the past three years.

 

I have supported ICPHSO throughout my tenure because I believe this is a great forum for CPSC - a great forum for us to engage in a forward-looking conversation with all of our stakeholders.

 

And with today being CPSC Day, I am especially proud to be here. I am proud of the direction - the forward-leaning direction - that the CPSC is headed.

 

Since more stringent rules were established in 2008, recalls of toys and recalls of toys due to lead violations have declined 80 percent. This is progress, and it is the result of hard work by CPSC and the toy industry.

 

Since the Pool and Spa Safety Act went into effect in December of 2008, no child has died from the horrific hazard of a pool drain entrapment. The CPSC staff and I are working hard to maintain a zero death rate from this danger.

 

Since the strongest standards in the world for cribs went into effect in June of 2011, the sleep environment for babies and toddlers is safer than ever.

 

Infant walkers, toddler beds, and bed rails now have stronger, mandatory safety requirements, which is another win for children, parents, and caregivers.

 

Independent, third party testing of children's products is taking place in North Carolina, New Jersey, Illinois, and Tennessee. It is happening in Beijing, Milan, Guangdong, and Jakarta.

 

Independent testing of children's products is the capstone of CPSC's implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, and it is one of the most important safeguards sought by parents and consumers.

 

Farther upstream, Chinese companies are starting to incorporate best practices in manufacturing. I have seen it firsthand. I have seen how strollers, toys, ATVs, and fireworks are made in China, and there are signs of progress.

 

My philosophy is to "take safety to the source." And that philosophy is driving CPSC's efforts to work with Chinese manufacturers to adhere to U.S. standards and build safety into product design.

 

Back on the home front, unprecedented cooperation with Customs and Border Protection is leading to success at the ports. Toys, teddy bears, hair dryers, Christmas lights, extension cords, jewelry, and fireworks are being caught by CBP inspectors and CPSC investigators.

 

Products with small parts, missing shock- protection devices, undersized wiring, counterfeit UL labels, high levels of cadmium, and too much flash powder are being caught by our inspectors.

 

So, what do all of these products have in common?

 

They never reached store shelves and never reached the hands of consumers.

 

By being proactive at the ports, CPSC and CBP staff has stopped 6.5 million units of about 1,700 different children's products in 2010 and 2011.

 

I predict that our import surveillance program will continue to succeed. This is because for the first time we have gained real-time access to a special commercial targeting system operated by CBP.

 

This is a database that tracks the manifests of shipments headed from ports of call around the world to our shores.

 

Now we can anticipate when and where a shipment of interest will arrive.

 

And we have implemented a pilot risk assessment methodology aimed at early detection and targeting of high risk products and repeat offenders. I believe this will make CPSC even more effective in using our limited resources.

 

Our work at the ports is another win for the consumer and another sign that CPSC is willing and able to stand and protect.

 

Because of all of these accomplishments, I come before you today and say with confidence that the state of product safety is strong - and it is built to last.

 

CPSC is the strongest it has been in decades, and I believe we are making a strong contribution to the state of product safety around the world.

 

We are using our strength not for short-term gains, but to create a sustainable product safety system.

 

A system built to last.

 

A system built to last through compliance with the stringent safety and testing requirements established by the CPSIA.

 

A system built to last by creating a regulatory approach that strives for injury prevention rather than reaction.

 

A system built to last for which future generations will thank us.

 

What drives me to ensure that CPSC leads at home and on the world stage is my commitment to consumer protection.

 

Consumer protection is ingrained in the mission and history of the agency. Having a single agency with the authority to protect consumers from flammable fabrics, defective products, and dangerous poisons is at the heart of CPSC's founding.

 

Through a progressive approach, acting on behalf of the consumer, the CPSC of today is staying true to our roots and to our core values.

 

Consumer protection has always been ingrained in my years of service to children, and it has been deepened by the people I have met during my time as Chairman.

 

I have met with countless stakeholders in industry who have expressed that a strong CPSC does a better job at keeping a level playing field for American businesses in the global economy.

 

I have met apparel makers down South and toy companies from Minnesota and California who are playing by the rules and thriving. But they want foreign manufacturers to be held accountable if they do not play by the same safety rules.

 

I agree, and I have made this point to our counterparts in the Chinese government.

 

I have met parents who lost their children due to defective juvenile products, who want the nursery to once again be the safest place in the home. And I heard from more than 12,000 consumers in all 50 states who called for the Commission to approve continuous testing for children's products.

 

I heard their calls for action, and we responded by strengthening the product safety net.

 

As President Obama stated earlier this year about the role government should play in consumer protection: "We shouldn't be weakening oversight. We shouldn't be weakening accountability. We should be strengthening it."

 

I agree with the President.

 

Some of the cable news shows may offer up sound bites that consumer protection is an approach that invariably hurts the business community. I disagree.

 

Under my watch, the CPSC has given all stakeholders a voice and a role in the process. The track record of the Commission shows that we have expanded the ways in which the business community can contribute to the setting of standards and the recalls process.

 

Sometimes the rules are the rules and the outcomes cause concern to the business community; but, we try our best to strike the right balance.

 

Another reason why the President's remarks about the role of the regulator are so important is that we face a disparity in this country.

 

There is an economic disparity in consumerism and a digital divide across the social strata - a divide that this Administration has been dedicated to closing.

 

I believe that when it comes to consumer protection, no one, no one, should be left unprotected.

 

Everyone deserves to be safe in their home by knowing how to make their home safe.

 

Now, we still have work to do.

 

CPSC is a global leader in product safety, but we have not perfected our system or accomplished everything that I want to accomplish. So, I would like to speak about three areas of focus during the remainder of my time with you today:

 

First, I want to talk about CPSC's safety agenda for 2012.

 

Second, I want to talk about the standards development process, the recalls process, and how they can be strengthened.

 

And third, I will share my assessment of SaferProducts.gov, because next week marks the one year anniversary.

 

Many of the talented employees at CPSC - and there are truly many - are working on safety initiatives aimed at making our agency even more proactive in 2012.

 

The safety agenda I would like share with all of you will guide 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. Last month, the Commission voted unanimously to approve a brand new standard for bed rails. Next up to be approved is a final rule for play yards. And also this year, standards are in the works for bassinets and cradles, strollers, and infant carriers. Our dedicated professional staff will continue to work closely with ASTM, so that we can stay on track and start two new rulemakings every six months, which is required by the CPSIA. During my tenure, the CPSC has approved new rules on baby cribs, toddler beds, infant walker, baby bath seats, bed rails, and product registration cards.

 

We are also continuing to work on 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, the fact that we are still seeing a high number of deaths and injuries associated with portable generators means that 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 170 deaths over the past nine 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 - safer in terms of occupant protection, stability, and steering performance.

 

All-terrain vehicles also remain a serious concern to the agency and to me. With more than 700 deaths per year, ATVs are the second most deadly product we oversee. We have been doing grassroots education and technical research for years. And this summer, we will consider a final rule aimed at providing young riders with greater protections.

 

Upholstered furniture is involved in tens of thousands of fires and hundreds of deaths each year in the United States. 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. This rule has the potential to be one of the top lifesaving rules in CPSC's history. After 16 years of the agency trying, I am committed to pursuing the approval of a final rule while I am Chairman.

 

There are two fairly new rulemakings that I also want to share with you, because they address very serious risks.

 

First, is 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 still seeking comments from our stakeholders on how the safety of these products can be improved.

 

The other is gel fuels and firepots. In December, the Commission voted unanimously to publish an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, just months after nearly all bottles of pourable gel fuel used in firepots were recalled. The ANPR was prompted by the number of serious injuries and deaths. We are aware of 65 incidents that have resulted in two deaths and at least 34 victims who were hospitalized. The victims had second- and third-degree burns of the face, chest, hands, arms or legs, after ignited gel fuel splattered on them. The ANPR is exploring the question of whether it is even possible to make gel fuel safe for consumers to use.

 

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, in order to advance consumer safety in these areas.

 

I know they want to prevent injuries and deaths from defective juvenile products, rollovers, crashes, CO poisonings, fires, and finger amputations.

 

I just focused on the mandatory standards work we are doing at CPSC. Now, I want to focus on the voluntary standards and voluntary recalls processes.

 

Let's start with voluntary standards.

 

As exemplified by the Chairman's Circle of Commendation Award that I presented to Kathie Morgan and Len Morrissey, the ASTM F15.18 subcommittee has set the bar very high for how an SDO can work in partnership with CPSC.

 

This subcommittee has been instrumental in adopting tough, new voluntary standards for children's nursery products, especially cribs.

 

Nothing is more important than the safety of babies in these products. And the standards that this subcommittee helps create are intended to ensure that babies are safe when placed to sleep.

 

We have the strongest crib safety standard in the world, not just because of the CPSIA, not just because of CPSC, but because CPSC worked side by side with ASTM.

 

When I met with the subcommittee members to lay out my vision for the scope and timing of achieving a mandatory rule, they got it.

 

They understood how important their work would be in the process. They understood how important their work would be in preventing child fatalities.

 

The standard that CPSC approved in December 2010 was based to a large extent on the great work done by this ASTM subcommittee.

 

And their mandate extends beyond cribs. Their work on toddler beds was vital to the new rule we just approved, and we are working with their standard to finalize the upcoming play yard rule.

 

We have years of work ahead of us to turn all of the voluntary juvenile product standards into mandatory standards, pursuant to the CPSIA.

 

Our experience with cribs is still a shining example of how CPSC and the standards community can form a successful partnership.

 

Turning from juvenile products to jewelry and toys, ASTM - once again - delivered new, child-protective standards.

 

I am thankful that the Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association and the Toy Industry Association were all supportive of new ASTM voluntary standards for cadmium and other toxic metals in both surface coatings and substrates of children's jewelry and toys.

 

At my urging, the ASTM children's jewelry and F963 subcommittees approved these voluntary standards in December of last year.

 

Brent Cleveland from FJATA and Joan Lawrence from TIA did a very good job of leading these two subcommittees and incorporating the viewpoints of a variety of stakeholders.

 

I appreciate the determination that both subcommittees displayed in carrying out their work.

 

For the past two years, I have been warning manufacturers about substituting cadmium or other toxic metals in place of lead.

 

And I believe that the proactive steps we have taken in China, at the ports, and in the standards environment have stopped cadmium from being the next lead.

 

Now, we have standards for both toys and children's metal jewelry, reinforcing my warning to manufacturers about the hazards of cadmium and other toxic metals.

 

Strong standards are the pathway to safer products, and children's jewelry and toys will be safer thanks to these efforts.

 

And, more importantly, children using and playing with them will be safer thanks to these efforts.

 

To me, that is forward progress.

 

An example of a standard that is in the works, and that I believe is on the right track, is the ANSI standard on gas fireplaces.

 

During the past decade, there have been hundreds of burn injuries, many involving second and third degree burns, to children who touched the unprotected glass of a gas fireplace.

 

The glass can reach temperatures between 400 and 1,000 degrees. Can you imagine the pain that those children experienced?

 

Well, in January, the Hearth, Patio, and Barbeque Association visited with the Commissioners and me to announce that they would support a revision of the ANSI standard to include a protective barrier.

 

This was welcome news.

 

And, the Association said they would push for the barrier to be available as a retrofit for existing gas fireplaces.

 

This was great news and a sign of an association that gets it.

 

As I shared with the association, I want to see the revised standard apply to vented and unvented fireplaces. And it is critical that installers attach the shield if it comes unassembled with new products.

 

But overall, I am encouraged that we will see a standard this year that will prevent horrible burn injuries to children.

 

So, I have shared examples of the good; now, let's talk about where advancements in safety could be made in the voluntary standards world.

 

During my tenure, TV and furniture tip-over incidents have been a special concern to CPSC. One child dies every two weeks from a TV or furniture tip-over incident.

 

And more than 22,000 children younger than 8 end up in emergency rooms from tip-over incidents each year.

 

Through our "Anchor it and Protect a Child" campaign, we are trying to use education to prevent this hidden hazard.

 

But, I believe that education alone is not the solution.

 

Both UL and ASTM have standards for furniture stability.

 

But I urge both SDOs to look for ways to:

 

strengthen the stability standards for children's and adult furniture;

explore a stability standard for televisions; and

evaluate whether manufacturers and retailers are doing all they can to provide consumers with safety straps and anchors.

 

I know that this is a challenging issue that involves old and new TVs, and old and new furniture, but let's try to work together to tackle the problem from all angles.

 

Our children deserve no less.

 

Next, I want to talk about window coverings.

 

After more than 500 strangulation deaths of children and the recall of tens of millions of blinds and shades over the past three decades, window blind safety is in great need of improvement.

 

The Window Covering Manufacturers Association, working through the ANSI process, spent last year working to come up with a set of revised standards.

 

There was optimism that after years and years of prior revisions that fell short of eliminating the risk of exposed looped cords, this new push might get the job done.

 

At this moment, WCMA is evaluating the votes and comments to see whether their ballot can be approved. I call upon WCMA to give serious consideration to all of the comments they received - especially those from CPSC's window covering expects, and even those tied to a negative vote.

 

Unfortunately, the revised ANSI standard does not go far enough to support cordless solutions or shrouded lift cords. And it does not adequately address the problems with tension devices.

 

As I told the industry just days ago, we still need to work together to "design out" the strangulation hazard in future work on the standard. And I appreciate the industry's willingness to keep an open dialogue.

 

The CPSC's work on window blind safety will continue at an aggressive pace, so that the agency and the industry can reach consensus on how to design out the risk of strangulation.

 

I am encouraged that the industry has new, innovative designs that can meet this challenge.

 

I want to make an appeal to the innovators of cordless blinds and shades with hidden lift cords, I say, keep on pushing, keep on working to bring your products to the market.

 

You can do it. You represent the best of American ingenuity.

 

Parents with young children deserve the right to a home free from this hidden hazard, and your products can make that a reality.

 

There are other examples where CPSC has stepped up and taken the lead, where we believe the voluntary standards process is not getting the job done.

 

With table saws and recreational off-highway vehicles, we stepped in and started federal rulemaking. There is ongoing voluntary standards work with both of these products, but CPSC staff believes that we have ability to come up with federal standards that will create even safer products.

 

Now let's turn know to the voluntary recall process.

 

I believe that the majority of recalls we announce are well done. They are done cooperatively, and they provide important safety information to consumers.

 

But, we know that recall effectiveness is still a challenge for both the CPSC and industry.

 

If we reach affected consumers with information about a recall one time, they may feel informed; but if we reach consumers two or three times, then they may respond.

 

So, I commend those who are using Facebook, who are tweeting, or who are producing YouTube videos to reach consumers. And, I commend those who work cooperatively with CPSC as we try to use blogs and our social media tools to spread the word.

 

My promise to you is that we will be fair and we will be accurate.

 

But. . .

 

If you accuse us of violating 6(b), when we have not been unfair or inaccurate, then we will stand our ground.

 

The old notion of alerting consumers just through the four corners of the recall press release does not reflect current thinking.

 

We need to keep pace with the evolving ways consumers receive and process information.

 

Recalls can be more effective if we communicate better, and to a broader audience. Recalls are done for a point - a very important safety point.

 

I believe we can adhere to 6(b), give proper consideration to the interests of your company or your clients, and still do a better job of generating higher response rates.

 

About 400 times a year, we work together to announce corrective action programs. Let's get the best results possible from all of the work both sides put into the process.

 

Finally, I would like to update you on the progress we have made with the SaferProducts.gov website. Next week, we will celebrate the one year anniversary of the site.

 

During the past year, we have posted more than 6,300 reports of harm or potential reports of harm and 3,800 comments from manufacturers.

 

We have processed about 675 material inaccuracy claims, with the majority involving the consumer naming the wrong manufacturer. We can handle those claims easily.

 

Kitchen, home maintenance, furniture, and baby products are the top four product areas that consumers reported on via the website.

 

To answer the question of who is visiting the site and who is filing reports?

 

The answer is consumers overwhelmingly - just as I expected.

 

And even prior to the passage of the CPSIA amendment bill by the Congress, we were seeing that 80 percent of the reports included specific product information, such as the model number.

 

Our most recent data indicates that we are now up to 86 percent of reports contain the model number.

 

I appreciate that many companies are using their right to comment as a means to educate consumers.

 

Some of the comments inform consumers that their product has been subject to a recall, and other comments provide information about why a company believes its product is safe.

 

What is key - and I said this before the database was launched, and I want to restate it again today - if you work for a company that CPSC regulates, and you have not registered on the SaferProducts.gov Business Portal, you should do so right away.

 

Every regulated business deserves the full due process that our database rule affords you. But, if you are not registered to receive electronic notification of a report of harm, then it will take away from the amount of time you have to respond to CPSC.

 

Now, there are other benefits to registering in the Business Portal that I hope you know about.

 

You can use the site for Section 15 reporting.

 

You can use the site for retailer reporting.

 

And qualified small batch manufacturers can use the site to register to receive relief from certain third party testing requirements.

 

I believe SaferProducts.gov is doing the job of informing consumers in a way that is empowering them. I also believe the site is helping to make CPSC be more accessible to the public and letting the sun shine in.

 

We will continue to make improvements so that the site serves the business community and consumers even better.

 

And we will continue to work on integrating the data from SaferProducts.gov with all of our other systems, so that we can connect the dots faster in finding emerging hazards.

 

In closing, I believe that prevention must win out over reaction - from manufacturing to distribution, industry, consumer advocates, and CPSC should continue to work cooperatively to prevent injuries.

 

I predict that the year 2012 will be another successful year, especially if everyone rallies around this approach of being "Proactive for Prevention."

 

I know that each of you is up to the challenge, because many of you already have a corporate or organizational mission that is committed to the well-being of consumers.

 

At CPSC, we are proud that this is a time when parents and grandparents can stand in toy stores and know that the products they see have been independently tested.

 

This is a time when consumers have unprecedented access to safety information at the tips of their fingers.

 

This is a time when foreign regulators and foreign manufacturers understand the requirements established in the United States, and know that there are consequences for not following our rules.

 

This is a time when the American consumer is being well represented by their government and is being better protected by a global system of safety that is getting stronger.

 

Together, we are building a product safety system that is built to last - built to last so that future generations of children and other consumers have an even greater level of safety.

 

Thank you all for you time, and congratulations to ICPHSO for organizing another great conference.