It makes sense to have a one-stop resource where you can easily find out if a product you own – or are about to buy – has safety problems. Which is why Consumers Union pushed so hard for the creation of saferproducts.gov, and we will continue to fight to keep it available for all consumers.
This new website from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched earlier this month, and we urge you to check it out. Not only can you find the latest information about recalls (and search for the consumers’ safety complaints about products beginning in April), you can also contribute to the database any safety problems you’ve experienced. Consumers, after all, are often on the front lines when it comes to discovering a defect or other problem.
Before the creation of this database, complaints about unsafe toys or other products that had injured or even killed children or adults were often held back from the public for weeks, months, or even years after the complaints were registered with the agency. A provision in the law at the time required the CSPC to negotiate the release of such safety information with manufacturers, and this lack of transparency led to more injuries and fatalities because unsuspecting consumers were not aware of the risks.
But a new law pushed by Consumers Union, and passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in 2008, did away with this secrecy and created the public database. (As you may remember, this law passed in response to millions of dangerous products, especially toys, being recalled).
Unfortunately, industry groups and opponents in Congress are still fighting to undermine the database. Already there has been an attempt to kill it by yanking its funding in the House majority’s fiscal year budget – and other attempts to gut it are expected in the coming weeks.
Groups like the National Association of Manufacturers are leading the fight against the database, claiming it will include inaccurate claims and place too big of a burden on manufacturers. CPSC officials have built in safeguards to prevent such abuses, and have sought to balance the interests of consumers and manufacturers.
Manufacturers will have the opportunity to review every complaint for material inaccuracies and confidential business information before it goes up; and inaccuracies and confidential information will not be published. No anonymous reports will be permitted, and all complaints must be safety related – consumer opinions about the product’s performance will not be included. And manufacturers will be able to publicly post their own comments or explanations in response to the complaint at any time. Anyone posting false information in the database will be subject to prosecution.
Out of the approximately 900 complaints filed during the soft launch of the website in January and February, only four were determined to be inaccurate.
The idea of a public safety database is also not unique. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Food and Drug Administration have had comparable public safety databases for years. The NHTSA database allows consumers to report and look for safety complaints with cars, car components and car seats. The FDA database allows consumers to report and look for hazards with medical devices.
We believe consumers should have access to the latest safety information about the products they buy, especially when lives are at stake. We will continue to fight to protect this valuable public resource, and hope you will lend your voices in support.