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Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle Prepared Remarks for the 2019 International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization Annual Symposium

February 27, 2019

Good morning! It is so very good to be with you again at this annual ICPHSO meeting.

I want to thank Mary [Boyle] for that kind introduction. Mary is doing a tremendous job as Executive Director of CPSC. I am grateful every day for her willingness to serve, the work she is doing, and the leadership she provides the agency’s staff. With Mary at the helm, the CPSC could not be in more competent hands. 

Thank you as well to ICPHSO’s dedicated leadership, including Executive Director Marc Schoem, current President Belinda May, President-Elect Matt Howsare, and the entire Board of Directors. I appreciate everything you do to make this event a success and for giving me the opportunity to speak today. I often speak of ICPHSO as the model of what true collaboration can accomplish, and I thank you for all of your efforts.

I also want to congratulate Marc [Schoem] on receiving the 2019 Ross Koeser Achievement Award this morning. The award is a recognition of your commitment to safety, and it is well deserved. Congratulations.

I also want to extend my gratitude to all of the foreign government officials who are in attendance at ICPSHO this week. Welcome to Washington and thank you for all of your safety efforts.

As with any organization, stability and certainty is critical. To that end, I can report that with Commissioners Baiocco and Feldman joining me and Commissioners Kaye and Adler at CPSC last year, the Commission is at full strength for the first time in quite a while. 

We are a new composition of Commissioners, but one with the unchanged mission of keeping consumers safe from unreasonable risks of injury or death.

As with any change in administration, it is reasonable to expect that there will be different ideas, approaches, and policies. How we accomplish things may change, but the goal of safety remains the same.

Today, I want to provide you with some agency updates as well as reflect upon a number of priority consumer safety issues. And I truly look forward to my discussion during the lunchtime session with my dear colleague and friend, Commissioner Adler. Commissioner Adler is a man of great integrity and principle. We do not always agree, but I am appreciative every day for his support, kindness, and friendship, and I look forward to our discussion later today.

2019 got off to a challenging start with the prolonged government shutdown, but thanks to the tireless work of CPSC’s staff, we restored normal operations quickly and we are also clearing the backlog of incidents and reports that came in during the shutdown. In addition, we also have worked with several firms to reannounce the recalls that were announced during the shutdown.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Mary Boyle and General Counsel Patty Hanz individually for their leadership throughout the shutdown. They bore the burden of guiding excepted staff and providing me with daily updates as well as returning the agency to normal operations post-shutdown. Thank you both for all of your efforts.

As I mentioned, certainty is critical to agency operations and knowing that we are funded through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2019 is a relief. I continue to request increases to CPSC’s existing budget. I am a fiscal conservative, but I recognize the challenges our small agency faces to execute our mandate of keeping consumers safe from unreasonable risk of harm with such a limited budget.  

We received an appropriation of $127 million for Fiscal Year 2019, including $800,000 designated for VGB pool safety grants.  While this represents an increase over 2018, it does not make up for several years when our funding was flat.  And each year that we do not keep pace with inflation, the problem grows worse and mission funding is redirected to offset these cumulative inflation costs. In addition, programmatically we need a more robust budget to ensure we are able to deal with the rapidly changing global marketplace where the types of products and how consumers buy and interact with those products is constantly evolving.  

In particular, I believe that we need to improve the quality of the data we receive, our capability to accept that data, and our ability to analyze data so that we can identify the issues most deserving of the agency’s attention. All of this requires consistent, adequate, and additional funding.

With the shutdown behind us, we look forward.  And this morning, I want to share with you a few areas that are in the forefront of my mind. 

Let me begin with the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things is the connectivity of everyday things, through the internet, to enhance the usage and consumer experience of consumer products. 

What was once referred to as “the information superhighway” is no longer a device that sits on one’s desk.  Instead it is now a process that can interact with your car, house, appliances, and wearables. New products that fall within the CPSC jurisdiction are being introduced into the marketplace and consumers’ homes every day. As a federal agency that regulates over 15,000 types of products, it is important for us to look out to the emerging technology horizon and to seek to understand how smart technology is changing the world of consumer products. 

This technology is innovative, fast paced and revolutionary.  The consumer of such technology is focused on the functionality, convenience, privacy, safety and security of the product. The CPSC is focused on safety. 

And, as with all emerging technology, there come not only the expected benefits but also new risks and unintended problems. 

The CPSC is, and will remain, engaged on this issue.

In 2016, under the leadership of then-Chairman Elliot Kaye, CPSC staff examined what new and potential consumer products may become available, or gain wider use, and to identify potentially new, increased, or decreased consumer hazards associated with these emerging technologies. Staff’s work culminated in the January 2017 report entitled, Potential Hazards Associated with Emerging and Future Technologies.  

This report has been a very useful document, to staff and stakeholders alike, in launching additional consumer product safety work in the application of interconnection of smart consumer products. 

Under my leadership, the CPSC continues to advance the discussion on IoT and smart technology. To that end, the CPSC held a public hearing in May of 2018 to learn more about the impacts this modern technology of interconnectedness would have on consumer product safety. 

After digesting the very substantial and valuable input we received at the daylong hearing, we recognized that there were many IoT product safety considerations for the agency to address, from jurisdictional issues, to the complexity of software upgrades, to the impact of cybersecurity risks on the safety of the product.  

Patty Adair, Supervisory Program Analyst in the Office of Hazard Reduction, has taken the lead on this issue for the agency with support from other technical staff.  To date, focusing on the myriad issues associated with IOT has been one of Patty’s many duties and responsibilities.  Given the scope of this topic, I have concluded that dedicated staff resources are necessary to develop a framework for our agency.

Therefore, I have asked the Executive Director to detail Patty Adair to my office to focus solely on the Internet of Things and emerging technologies. 

While on detail to my office, Patty will focus her efforts on enhancing the agency’s leadership role on the Internet of Things and Consumer Product Safety.  Patty’s duties will include:  

  1. convening an  Interagency Working Group on Consumer Product Safety of Internet Connected Products, 
  2. coordinating with the NIST National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence on IoT and Home Safety, 
  3. collaborating with voluntary standards organizations, including ASTM and UL, on development of standards to protect consumers, and
  4. increasing opportunities for collaboration with all of our stakeholders, who are so critical to our mission to protect the public.

With Patty’s focus and leadership on this issue, I believe we will enhance the agency’s ability to understand and address consumer product hazards enabled by connected products as well as identify potential future work needed by CPSC.

Patty’s efforts coincide with significant interest in this topic at the Commission.  In particular, I would like to commend Commissioner Kaye, and Dr. Jonathan Midget on his staff, for their continued work and contribution to this topic.  Last month, they issued a paper entitled “A Framework of Safety for the Internet of Things: Considerations for Consumer Product Safety.”  Commissioner Kaye’s paper can be found on his statement page on CPSC’s website.

In addition, our newest Commissioner, Peter Feldman, is also interested in this topic, and he will be participating on an ICPHSO panel tomorrow entitled: Agencies Stand United for Consumer Product Safety--Evolving Approaches for Innovation & Technology.    

Commission interest also must be complemented by a strategic and coordinated effort with all stakeholders to better understand and deal with this new frontier. As regulators, we need to grapple with the proper role of government –what, who, and when to regulate.  Undue regulation, overlapping jurisdiction, and uncertain responsibilities can stifle innovation in this area.  To avoid these problems, we must be careful to strike the right balance.  

I look forward to working with my colleagues and all of the stakeholders, whether they are other federal agencies, voluntary standards organizations, consumer organizations, private sector, or Congress, as we collectively seek to understand and address the consumer product safety challenges presented by smart technology.

While we are on the subject of technology, I would like to take a few minutes to talk about other efforts CPSC is taking to enhance its own uses of technology and the ways it interfaces with consumers and stakeholders. 

In case you missed it, on February 12, 2019, CPSC launched our new recall app. The app gives consumers easier mobile access to recall information currently on our website.  Consumers can use the app to search quickly, and in a more efficient and mobile-friendly way, to find out whether a specific product has been recalled. The app can be downloaded for free at I urge you to give it a try and please remember to provide feedback to let us know how we can make it better. Feedback can be provided to CPSC’s Office of Information and Technology. 

I would like to commend Commissioner Dana Baiocco for her contribution in getting this recall app up and out the door.  We expect this app will also be a useful tool in expanding our recall effectiveness efforts. 

The agency is also very proud of the Small Business Ombudsman, or SBO team, for launching the new and improved Regulatory Robot 2.0, which I know Shelby Mathis provided a demonstration of on Monday. 

The Robot helps industry understand the product safety requirements that should be reviewed BEFORE a company begins manufacturing or importing, helping to ensure sure their products are safe and compliant for consumers. This tool is a free resource that can be found on our website and is also smartphone friendly.  I encourage you to give it a try if you haven’t done so lately. 

Lastly, on the technology front, CPSC is currently conducting an assessment of It has been more than 10 years since CPSC was directed through CPSIA to create this database, and given the advancements in technology since then, it is past time to take a look at ways the site can be improved. 

CPSC’s FY 2019 Operating Plan directed staff to take a critical look at to see what improvements may be necessary to make it more prominent, functional, and user-friendly. 

In connection with a recently published Request for Information (RFI) on this topic, the CPSC is holding a public hearing on March 6th to consider input from stakeholders on this important issue.  CPSC is particularly interested in information about how the website could be more user-friendly, and possible modifications to make the searching, reporting, and commenting tools more useful.  We have invited the public to provide oral and written comments.  Please share your thoughts and participate.  

Last year, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved an updated window covering safety standard, which now requires that stock or substantially fabricated window coverings be cordless or have inaccessible cords or short cords in any position of the window covering.

The standard also imposes restrictions for corded custom-order window coverings, such as a specific default length and default to a tilt wand instead of a tilt cord. It also provides for more robust warning tags that emphasize the strangulation hazard.

This new standard was born of years of ongoing discussion, debate, and finally, collaboration among the regulated community, the Window Coverings Manufacturers Association (WCMA), consumer and safety organizations, concerned parents, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

I expect compliance with this window covering safety consensus standard. And as old corded products are cycled out of the marketplace and replaced with cordless products, I anticipate we will see a significant reduction in deaths and injuries.

I look forward to the final step in this process, which is addressing the remaining hazards associated with custom window coverings.  WCMA committed to the first meeting on custom products in January, but due to the government shutdown, the meeting was re-scheduled for March 12, 2019.  I will be following the work of this committee very closely.

This is an example of how, through a tremendous amount of hard work by a diverse group of committed people, including CPSC staff, a breakthrough and a solution can become a reality. 

Despite this important breakthrough, there continues to be a need for robust educational campaigns on the hazards of corded products.  With over 750 million products still in homes, we need to raise awareness about the risk posed by corded products and continue to encourage the switch to cordless window coverings. 

Lastly, I want to address the hazard presented by clothing storage units, better known as “furniture tipover.”   

Addressing the serious safety hazard posed by furniture tipovers has been, and continues to be, a priority of mine as Acting Chairman of CPSC.  I voted to publish an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) concerning the risk of injuries and death associated with clothing storage units tipping over, and under my leadership, CPSC will continue its multi-faceted effort to reduce injuries and deaths through voluntary and mandatory standard work, enforcement activity, and our Anchor It! education and awareness campaign. 

Although clothing storage units are no doubt safer today than they were in years past – thanks to the work of CPSC staff, consumer advocates, parents, industry, and voluntary standards development -- there is more to be done. 

Therefore, today, I am challenging ALL stakeholders, including CPSC staff, to redouble their efforts to address the hidden hazard of furniture tipover more expeditiously. 

First, today, our compliance staff has issued a notice to manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers of clothing storage units who sell in the United States, that children face an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death from clothing storage units that fall within the scope of the existing ASTM standard but do not meet its requirements. 

Accordingly, the CPSC Office of Compliance and Field Operations will regard such clothing storage units as having a defect that could present a substantial product hazard under Section 15(a) of the CPSA, 15 U.S.C. § 2064(a).  Should we encounter such products, we will initiate an investigation and seek the corrective action we believe is appropriate. 

I urge you to review your product line immediately and ensure that all clothing storage units that you manufacture, import, distribute, or sell in the United States comply with the ASTM F2057-17 standard. 

Second, CPSC technical staff has embarked on a major testing program to evaluate the stability of clothing storage units currently on the market.To further elevate this issue, I requested that Michael Taylor, Mechanical Engineer in the Directorate of Laboratory Sciences, be tasked to focus solely on the issue of furniture tipovers.  The program will also evaluate new test configurations, conditions and procedures, with a view towards identifying potential improvements to the voluntary standard. 

Third, because our test program will take some time, I support two immediate actions to strengthen the voluntary standard.  Accordingly, I have written to Rick Rosati, the Chairman of the ASTM subcommittee, and offered my support for the following measures:

One: increase the test weights used in section 7.2 [Stability with Load] of the standard from 50 to 60 pounds. 

Two: expand the scope of the standard to include clothing storage units that are between 27 and 30 inches in height. 

Previous testing at CPSC and elsewhere—particularly at Consumers Union-- has shown that many clothing storage units already can withstand tipping at higher test weights. Until the results of the CPSC’s ongoing test program are digested, I believe this is a reasonable interim step to strengthen the standard and improve the stability of clothing storage units.  Adopting this approach would also end the unproductive debate about the exact age of children that the current standard was intended to protect and will give manufacturers a clear, stable performance requirement.  

Testing has also shown that units below 30 inches in height are capable of meeting the performance requirements of the standard, even at higher test weights. CPSC data show that tipovers of these shorter units can also cause significant injuries to young children, even death, although the mechanism may be different.  Expanding the scope of the standard to include these units will help prevent these tragic events. 

I urge the subcommittee to move ahead with these improvements as quickly as possible.    

Fourth, I continue to urge companies to design safety into new clothing storage products. Innovative design is an opportunity not only to enhance your product line from a business perspective, but also to create safer products. I encourage the subcommittee to write voluntary standards with flexibility to allow for innovative designs which provide equivalent or even better safety. 

Fifth, properly mounting or anchoring a TV, dresser, and other large furniture can prevent tragic tipover incidents. Anchoring devices are inexpensive, take just 5 minutes to install, and will save a child’s life. To reinforce these messages, CPSC will continue its Anchor It! campaign. 

The anchoring message will only be effective, however, if consumers have ready access to furniture stabilizing kits to prevent tipovers. Therefore, I have been in contact with a number of retail leaders to request that they carry furniture stabilizing kits, in conspicuous locations, in their stores if they are not already doing so. 

In addition, I will continue to ask the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to work with us to share this important message with parents. Educating consumers about this hazard must become as routine as is education about electrical outlet covers or installing safety latches on cabinets to protect children from household cleaners. Every new parent needs to be made aware of the furniture tipping hazard, what to consider when purchasing new furniture, and where to go to find anchors for existing furniture or vintage furnishings.

All stakeholders -- consumer advocates, pediatric associations, parent and child advocacy organizations, senior organizations to reach grandparents, and industry-- can play a role in educating caregivers on the hazard of furniture and television tip overs.

Furniture tipover is a complex problem, but it is one we must solve and we must solve it together.  Only by implementing a multi-pronged approach can we truly address this hidden hazard of furniture tipover. There is no one single solution.

Before closing, I would like to thank all of the stakeholders who have engaged with me on this critical safety issue.  But most importantly, I want to express my gratitude and appreciation to the member organizations of Parents Against Tipovers (PAT). The courage you have shown should be an example to all of us. I am humbled by your ability to turn the tragedies you have experienced personally into advocacy for the safety of others. 

Thank you again for the opportunity to be with you today.  By being in this setting and participating in the important discussions being had throughout the week, you show your commitment to safety.  

As I often say, CPSC cannot achieve its safety mission in isolation.  We need all stakeholders to join us, and I thank you all for your efforts, dedication, and engagement on consumer safety. 

Thank you and I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference.

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