Over the loud protests of product manufacturers and many U.S. Congressmen, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission last Friday launched an online portal that lets consumers lodge complaints of products they deem harmful from the comfort of their home computers.
The new SaferProducts.gov database encourages consumers to submit reports of harm or risks of harm, and to search for safety information on products they own or may consider buying.
The public database would no doubt be the breeding ground for product recalls already overseen by the federal safety agency. But products would not necessarily have to be subject to recall by virtue of being added to SaferProducts.gov.
Addressing product manufacturers' concerns that consumers will use the website to post frivolous,unsubstantiated and/or vindictive complaints, CPSC said it will review all of the reports to make sure each has merit. CPSC would then transmit qualifying reports to the affected manufacturer and when possible grant the manufacturer 10 days to respond to the complaint. At this point the consumer complaint and manufacturer response would be posted on the site.
Presumably a consumer would not be able to post a complaint that the finish of a delivered home entertainment unit was darker than what they saw online or at a retail showroom. The consumer could, however, complain if the unit is wobbly to the point of representing a tip-over hazard.
NAM Makes Final 11th Hour Plea
The National Association of Manufacturers issued a letter to the CPSC last Tuesday, three days before SaferProducts.gov went live. In it, NAM itemized what it views as "flaws" with the online consumer product database. Those flaws include mis-naming of companies not involved in the manufacture, importation or sale of the product; not providing necessary information to show how the product caused "harm" and failure to provide serial numbers to identify the exact make and model of the product under scrutiny.
"While the NAM supports a product incident database serving consumersâ need for accurate product information, we do not believe a poorly-functioning database serves the public interest.... (W)e respectfully request and petition the Commission to reconsider the final rule and extend the "Soft Launch" for a period of three months, so as to enable its staff to implement the statutorily mandated Database in accordance with the conditions imposed under statute and the Commissionâs own regulations."
Among the groups to join in the petition is the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association, which has come under fire from the CPSC over the recall of more than 10 million cribs, culminating with the ban of drop-side cribs.
Last Wednesday, JPMA joined with the Toy Industry Association, which has been at the center of millions of product recalls for excessive lead paint, for a webinar. In addition to explaining what SaferProducts.com is and how it works, the webinar covered "what toy and juvenile product companies can do."
Last month, an amendment sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) passed the House of Representatives to defund the SaferProducts.gov website. The amendment failed to find traction in the Democrat-majority Senate.
From this vantage point, the genie has long since escaped the bottle. Some people will voice complaints whether warranted or not on the Internet. Better that an effort be made to provide a structure to harness product complaints and to make continuous improvements to the system as it gets up to speed. This is surely a better avenue than letting a group like the American Trial Lawyers take charge.
Thatâs my take; whatâs yours?
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