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CPSC Issues Draft Strategic Plan, Seeks Input on Crib Bumpers

The Consumer Product Safety Commission welcomes public comments by 9 March on all aspects of its draft strategic plan for 2016-2020, which will focus on cultivating the most effective consumer product safety workforce, preventing hazardous products from reaching consumers, responding quickly to address hazardous consumer products in the marketplace and with consumers, and communicating useful information quickly and effectively to better inform decisions. The CPSC notes that these strategic objectives are underpinned by performance goals and strategic initiatives that define additional outcomes, outputs and activities. CPSC programmes will align with these goals and staff will implement strategies to achieve them.

The draft plan highlights a number of external factors that could potentially affect the agency’s ability to accomplish some programme outcomes and strategic goals. For example, the CPSC believes that new technologies such as additive manufacturing (3-D printing) have the potential to fundamentally change the consumer product supply chain. Innovative products containing nanoscale materials may also present a number of new human exposure questions that are not yet fully understood. Thanks to the Internet consumers are now able to purchase products directly from a manufacturer or distributor located nearly anywhere in the world. Adding to those challenges is the fact that the marketplace is more global today than ever before, with many of the consumer products commercialised in the United States manufactured in foreign countries under different standards and regulations.

To illustrate the complexity of an increasingly globalised marketplace, the CPSC notes that during fiscal year 2015 more than 192,000 importers brought into the United States a broad range of consumer products with a total estimated value of some US$754 billion, which comes down to more than US$2 billion of imported consumer products per day. The fact that approximately 80 percent of consumer product recalls in FY 2015 involved an imported product underscores the importance of the CPSC’s import surveillance programme as well as future efforts to build and expand on that effort.

With respect to preventing consumer product-related injuries, the draft plan sets forth the following initiatives.

  • increase capability to identify and stop imported hazardous consumer products; e.g., by accelerating the on-going effort to modernise the CPSC’s risk assessment methodology computer system, implementing the full-production RAM compliant with the Single Window initiative, and decreasing the time required to process imported products subject to inspection
  • increase importers’, manufacturers’ and retailers’ use of consumer product safety best practices, including finalising the Trusted Trader programme
  • advance data analysis and research capability to identify existing and potential emerging consumer product hazards, particularly those linked to rapid advances in technology such as the use of nanoparticles
  • address changes in traditional manufacturing methods, such as additive manufacturing using 3-D printers, and e-commerce distribution options
  • develop voluntary standards and mandatory regulations to address hazards for products resulting from new technologies
  • identify, research and inform the public about chemical or chronic hazards in consumer products

To allow the CPSC to quickly address hazardous consumer products in the marketplace and with consumers, the draft plan specifies the following goals.

  • determine the feasibility of implementing an e-filing process for importers, manufacturers and retailers to submit incident data and section 15(b) reports
  • improve the effectiveness of corrective actions; e.g., by implementing electronic submission of progress reports from recalling firms and informing foreign product safety regulators about interventions undertaken in the United States and encouraging them to take appropriate steps
  • explore the feasibility of an expedited approach to corrective action plans for lower-level consumer product hazards
  • increase the speed with which the CPSC identifies hazardous products by improving the data collection, internal sampling analysis and testing process to quickly identify patterns and trends that reflect emerging hazards

Meanwhile, the CPSC is seeking input from interested parties by 18 April regarding the safety benefits of crib bumpers, whether safety hazards are associated with crib bumpers, existing safety standards that
apply to crib bumpers, and potential performance requirements, testing and other standards that may reduce the risk of injury, if any, associated with crib bumpers. The CPSC will use this information to determine the need for and appropriate scope of mandatory safety standards for crib bumpers. CPSC staff has already reviewed incident data to identify what features or characteristics of crib bumpers create a safety hazard, if any, and is evaluating existing safety standards that apply to crib bumpers and similar products and testing various types of crib bumpers.

Also of potential interest is a recent final rule that effective 3 March will allow CPSC employees to participate as voting members and accept leadership positions in voluntary standards development groups, subject to prior approval by the Office of the Executive Director. Voluntary standards development activities for consumer products within the Commission’s jurisdiction are handled primarily by three organisations: ASTM International (previously called the American Society for Testing and Materials), the American National Standards Institute and Underwriters Laboratories Inc. Previous regulations prohibited CPSC staff from voting and holding leadership positions in these groups; instead, staff members could participate in the voluntary standards development process by providing expert advice, technical assistance and information based on analyses of the numbers and causes of deaths, injuries or incidents associated with a product. Staff were also allowed to conduct CPSC research, perform laboratory tests and provide draft language for a voluntary standard.

The CPSC is now removing these restrictions based on a number of factors. First, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 gave rise to the expectation that, for certain children’s products, voluntary standards would form the basis for mandatory standards development. Second, Congress has directed federal agencies to “use technical standards that are developed or adopted by voluntary consensus standards bodies” and to “participate with such bodies in the development of technical standards.”

Finally, the Government Accountability Office issued in May 2012 a report concluding that allowing CPSC staff to participate more actively in voluntary standards activities and to vote on voluntary standards could result in stronger standards without compromising the CPSC’s independence. The CPSC states that such participation would provide its staff with additional access to and familiarity with the latest technologies and increase the likelihood that the standards can meet both public and private sector needs.

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