United States Consumer Product Safety Commission
UNITED STATES CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is an independent federal regulatory agency whose primary mission is to insure that consumer products are safe to use and will not cause injuries or death.
The CPSC was created in 1972 by Congress as part of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA). Congress directed the CPSC to "protect the public against unreasonable risks of injuries and deaths associated with consumer products." The commission has jurisdiction over about 15,000 types of consumer products—from automatic-drip coffee makers to toys to lawn mowers. (Other federal agencies have jurisdiction over certain specific products, such as motor vehicles, foods, drugs, cosmetics, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, pesticides, aircraft, and boats.)
The CPSC enforces other laws in addition to the Consumer Product Safety Act. The Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) requires the labeling of hazardous household substances. A 1988 amendment to the FHSA, the Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act, requires special labeling of certain art materials. The 1994 Child Safety Protection Act pertains to toys, balls, and other possible choking hazards to children. Under that act, the CPSC also developed a bicycle helmet safety standard. The Poison Prevention Packaging Act requires child-resistant packaging for certain drugs and hazardous household substances. The CPSC also issues and enforces regulations under the Flammable Fabrics Act and the Refrigerator Safety Act.
The president of the United States nominates the CPSC commissioners, who must be confirmed by the Senate. One of these commissioners serves as chairman. While the CPSA provides for five commissioners, in recent years Congress has appropriated money only for three.
MECHANISMS OF CONSUMER SAFETY
To accomplish its mission to reduce the unreasonable risk of injuries and deaths associated with consumer products, the CPSC has certain tools at its disposal.
Recalls. The CPSC can initiate recalls of dangerous consumer products, resulting in their repair, replacement, or a refund of their purchase price. Every year, hundreds of products with safety, or potential safety, problems are recalled. The commission is especially vigilant about checking for potentially unsafe toys and children's products.
Mandatory Safety Standards. The CPSC issues and enforces mandatory safety standards. For example, to reduce deaths and injuries associated with children under age five who play with cigarette lighters, a mandatory safety standard was established requiring disposable and novelty lighters to be child-resistant. The CPSC can also ban consumer products if no feasible standard would adequately protect the public, and it can seek civil and criminal penalties against companies that break the law.
Voluntary Standards. The CPSC works with industry to develop many voluntary safety standards. This method was used to develop a voluntary safety standard on baby walkers, making them less likely to fall down stairs. In addition, the CPSC may ensure safer products by meeting with companies and getting them to agree to change their product. This happened in addressing the problem of young children strangling in the loops of window blind and curtain cords. The commission
Research. The CPSC conducts research on potential product hazards. CPSC scientists and researchers look for new or emerging consumer product hazards and try to find solutions to existing product hazards. Since the 1970s, the CPSC has operated the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which tracks injuries in U.S. hospital emergency departments and allows the commission to make national injury estimates. The NEISS often serves as an early-warning system about problems with specific consumer products.
Communication/Partnerships. The CPSC communicates with and educates the public by working with the media, state and local governments, and private organizations; and by responding to consumer inquiries. The commission also develops cooperative partnerships with businesses and other organizations to create public health campaigns on many issues. For example, in cooperation with a national baby products company, a grassroots program called Baby Safety Showers was implemented. This program, conducted in hundreds of cities across the country, teaches young parents how to keep their babies safe.
The CPSC is located in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., and has field offices throughout the country. To learn more about the commission and to obtain information about a wide variety of home safety issues, consumers can visit CPSC's web site at http://www.cpsc.gov, or call its toll-free hotline at 1–800-638–2772.
(SEE ALSO: Childhood Injury)