Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Act in 1972 to "assist consumers in evaluating the comparative safety of consumer products; to develop uniform safety standards for consumer products and to minimize conflicting state and local regulations; and to promote research and investigation into the causes and prevention of product related death, illnesses, and injuries." The act also established the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to "protect the public against unreasonable risks associated with consumer products." The CPSC has authority to set mandatory standards, ban products, order recalls of unsafe products, and institute labeling requirements.
The CPSC is an independent regulatory agency charged with protecting consumers from unreasonable risk of injury associated with consumer products. The most serious risks include amputation, electrocution, burns, asphyxiation, and cancer. Examples of recent product liability lawsuits in which defendant companies lost include breast implants that leaked silicone gel and football helmets that did not have enough padding. The commission has jurisdiction over about 15,000 types of consumer products, such as automatic coffee makers, toys, furniture, clothing, and lawn mowers. The CPSC works to reduce the risk of injury and death from consumer products by:
- Developing voluntary standards with industry
- Issuing and enforcing mandatory standards and banning consumer
products if no feasible standard would adequately protect the
- Obtaining the recall of products or arranging for their repair
- Conducting research on potential product hazards
- Informing and educating consumers through the media, state and local governments, and private organizations, and by responding to consumer inquiries. (CPSC, 1999).
The CPSC has three key program areas:
- The Office of Hazard Identification and Reduction, which collects and analyzes consumer injury and death data to determine trends in consumer product hazards.
- The Office of Compliance and Enforcement, which supervises compliance and administrative activities related to the act. This office also reviews proposed standards and rules with respect to their enforceability.
- The Office of Information and Public Affairs, which is responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of a comprehensive national information and public affairs program designed to promote product safety. (Fise, 1998).
In recent years, the CPSC has been involved in actions to protect children. In 1987, for example, the commission began to examine toys that pose choking hazards. This led Congress to pass the Child Safety Protection Act of 1994. A sample of child safety issues investigated by the commission includes bicycle helmets, public play grounds, upholstered furniture, walkers, drawstrings on children's clothing, baseball protective equipment, and toys. More than 160 deaths from toys were reported between 1990 and 1997, and at least seventy-two different toys that posed a small-parts hazard were recalled between October 1996 and September 1997 by the CPSC.(Public Interest Research Group [PIRG], 2000). PIRG reports that in 1998 fewer toys posing choking hazards appeared on shelves.
In addition, the commission has also written rules to establish performance, design, composition, packaging, and construction standards for many products. Examples of products with mandatory safety standards include matchbooks, walk-behind power lawn mowers, residential garage door openers, swimming pool slides, chain-saws, home-use pesticides, and cellulose insulation (Garman, 1997).
Consumers have benefited in the areas where the CPSC has taken action. The commission is constantly challenged to keep abreast of new products and potential hazards that may be associated with them. The commission is usually able to react, however, only after a consumer has been injured or died. The CPSC has changed the way many products are designed and manufactured. Continuing education by consumer groups, the media, and the CPSE has helped increase public awareness of possible consumer safety hazards. The CPSC is an important consumer protection agency, protecting consumers by assuring that products they use every day are safe.
Consumer Product and Safety Act (1972). Section 2051.
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). "Who Are Wehat We Do for You." . March 1999.
Fise, M. E. R. (1998). "Consumer Product Safety Regulation." In Regulation and Consumer Protection: Politics, Bureaucracy and Economics, ed. K. J. Meier, E. T. Garman, and L. R. Keiser. Houston, TX: DAME Publications.
Garman, E. T. (1997). Consumer Economic Issues in America, 5th ed. Houston, TX: DAME Publications.
Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). "Trouble in Toyland; Positive Signs in 1998." www.pirg.org/consumer/products/toy/98/page6.htm. March 2000
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