CPSC Chairman Testifies On Product Liability

April 26, 1977
Release Number: 77-041

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Chairman S. John Byington, in testimony given at the invitation of the Senate Select Committee on Small Business, today discussed his personal views on the product liability crisis as well as the potential utility of Commission resources in addressing the situation.

In summarizing pages 3-8 of his testimony relevant to the Commission's injury data system, the Chairman made the following points:

-We are limited only by our imagination, interagency cooperation, resources and public need in the expansion and utilization of the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) -- an injury data system that could be much more product or hazard specific on a demographic basis -- if necessary.

-Such an expanded system of collecting injury occurrence data would provide an excellent base for expanded in-depth investigations capable of determining product involvement and detailed accident scenarios on a statistically valid basis.

-With statistically valid product-causal information in hand -- along with relevant additional resources -- CPSC would be in an excellent position to:

     -Stimulate and guide accelerated voluntary standards activity with the capacity of being better able to determine "acceptable" levels of safety;

     -Undertake more specific and variously defined mandatory standard development activities where needed;

     -Coordinate with a new national insurance claims data base; and

     -Provide expanded technical assistance to industry -- especially small business.

The following additional excerpts are selected from the Chairman's prepared testimony:

-I am convinced that a better correlation between injury rate and liability insurance premiums would harness the profit motive to increase the incentives on manufacturers to market safer products and would also encourage insurance companies to provide a better rate-making process. To initiate such a national claims data base may require encouragement from the Congress to obtain voluntary cooperation or legislation for implementation.

-There is need for Commission policy determinations which provide industry with a greater degree of regulatory certainty as to what constitutes an acceptable voluntary standard to our agency as well as satisfactory compliance with one....

-I believe strongly that CPSC can be a creative new force at the regulatory standards table for bringing standards up from a lowest common denominator to an acceptable level -- by providing industry and specific firms with concrete guidance as to what is "acceptable.. . ."

-I am convinced that the key to making voluntary approaches work more effectively in reducing injuries lies in our agency's taking a creative approach to the certification process. The real need is for a certification mechanism capable of assuring that a voluntary standard is acceptable in dealing with unreasonable risks of injury, and that a firm is in compliance -- without involving CPSC directly in resource-intensive developmental or inspection activity to guarantee such acceptability and compliance.

-One possible approach would be the use of independent third party testing agencies to determine acceptability of the standard as well as to certify that a firm's products are in conformance. However, development of mechanisms for assuring the complete independence of such third parties from the firms they would certify would be absolutely crucial.

-Once such a certification mechanism has been developed and once a product has been found to conform, it would appear feasible also to develop a program of comparative certification whereby the consumer might be better informed of the relative safety characteristics of products in the marketplace by assignment through the certification mechanism of various gradations of safety.

-In this age of regulatory reform, CPSC stands ready to work with other agencies to assist in any attempt to provide a more rational apportionment of responsibilities among product safety regulatory bodies than now exists, and we are already in contact with these agencies in terms of expanding and sharing injury data.

The complete text of Chairman Byington's remarks can be obtained from the Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Room 501, 1111 - 18th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20207, telephone: 202/634-7780.