Product Safety Gaps are Actually Canyons

Many people believe that for a product to be sold, it has to first be proven safe.
Unfortunately this is far from the truth.

I ran across a great in depth article in Fast Company about product safety,
and how:

“There are no laws in place to ensure a company’s
product development process results in safe products,

because product safety is entirely voluntary.”

and to echo what I’ve been saying:

“Today, public outcry is doing much of the work
that government agencies cannot.”

More snippets from the very informative and long article follow:

“When it comes to consumer goods, a recall begins when a company with a hazardous product reaches out to the CPSC (companies are required by law to report product safety issues to the agency), or the agency hears reports from consumers about a hazardous product and reaches out to the company. Many companies will agree to a recall voluntarily. Nancy Cowles, the executive director of the nonprofit Kids in Danger (KID), which focuses on kids’ product safety, says that a company negotiates with the CPSC over how much it has to do as part of a formal recall.

Then, the company signs a contract with the agency detailing how it will carry out the recall (this typically includes pledging to do outreach campaigns to customers). If a company refuses to agree to a recall, the CPSC has to get a court order to force the company to carry it out–in other words, the CPSC has to sue, which can be a lengthy process and very expensive. That’s why most recalls are voluntary.”

The CPSC’s history has made the negotiation and oversight it is charged with difficult to do. The agency was founded in 1972 during an era when Congress was establishing and strengthening federal agencies. However, when the Reagan era of deregulation arrived, Congress gutted the CPSC, cutting 25% of its funding in 1981 and forcing the agency to cut staff and postpone or abandon some of its investigations into alleged hazards.

That’s partially why recalls have become a negotiation between the offending company and the CPSC–most of the time, companies undertake recalls voluntarily, under the threat of litigation that rarely happens because it is so time-consuming and resource-intensive for the underfunded agency.

When a recall is voluntary, the CPSC doesn’t have as much leverage, short of litigation, to ensure the recall is carried out. But the agency does sue sometimes: In February 2018, the CPSC sued the children’s product company Britax over a faulty jogging stroller that had injured 50 children and 40 adults because the company refused to recall the product, arguing that the injuries had resulted from misuse, rather than poor design.

But once a recall is agreed to, there’s little the government can do to ensure it’s carried out effectively.

“Frankly, if there aren’t sanctions for not doing a good recall, what’s the downside to companies?” says Cowles, the executive director of Kids in Danger. “[They] have some liability, but we know people will gamble on that. The more products it gets back, the more it costs them. They gamble that the big lawsuit won’t happen.”

The recall and the big lawsuit have happened in Ikea’s case: Three families whose children were killed by the Malm chest of drawers sued the company in a civil court wrongful death lawsuit, settling in late 2016 for $50 million. But that hasn’t convinced Ikea to recall the Hemnes dressers that killed a toddler in 2017.

Many of its other children’s products have been recalled for less severe injuries, like a broken leg or scratches.”

Today, public outcry is doing much of the work that government agencies cannot.

Even though the CPSC knew that Ikea’s dressers were killing kids before the recall,
the agency couldn’t publicly warn consumers
without Ikea’s permission
until the terms of the recall had been agreed upon.

Cowles and other consumer advocates worked to pass a law in 2008 that would revise some of the issues with product safety in the United States, and taking this gag order out of the act was part of it. But Congress demurred and instead created, a crowd-sourced public database where citizens can post information about hazards they come across.

So if recalls aren’t particularly effective, what should a company do?

The obvious answer:
Develop safer products.
But yet again, the regulatory framework is not on consumers’ side.

There are no laws in place to ensure a company’s product development process results in safe products, because product safety is entirely voluntary.”

“If you think about this in a backward way, shouldn’t furniture be made safe, not to topple in the first place?” she says. “But if it isn’t, if it kills eight children and injures thousands more, then that’s already too late.”

Today, consumers are almost entirely reliant on companies designing their products with safety in mind, since there are so few repercussions for failing to do so.

President Trump has also appointed several commissioners to the CPSC that are friendly to corporations, decreasing the likelihood that the CPCS can effectively enforce product safety regulations against powerful manufacturers.


Still, there are some things a consumer can do:

Please go to the original article in Fast Company by Katharine Schwab to  get all the details and to finish reading:


Ikea’s killer dressers and America’s hidden recall crisis

Ikea has recalled tens of millions of products, many of them related to children. So why are kids still dying? And why can’t the government do anything about it?


And remember, this issue of unsafe and hazardous products runs across the spectrum of what is found on store shelves, and that are made by large corporations who have convinced you (with the aid of incredibly manipulative marketing) that they are trustworthy and make great products.

There was a series of reports in the media recently about how medical devices and implants have been causing serious pain and health problems in a large amount of people, yet almost nothing has been done about it by the government bodies that are supposed to be regulating medical supplies.

There have been many reports about hazardous chemicals in children’s products and in personal care, laundry, and cleaning products.

Non-profit advocacy groups working on environmental health and  toxics issues (make sure they aren’t industry funded astroturfers) , and human canaries are usually much better sources of info about where we as a society need to do better.

Here are a few organizations doing important work:

Women’s Voices for the Earth

Safer Families Safer Chemicals
Coalition Partners
Mind the Store Campaign

The Baby Safe Project

The Science and Environmental Health Network


Profits should not come at the expense of public health
and the right to a healthy environment.
Our lives and the environment that is our life support system are priceless.

8 responses to “Product Safety Gaps are Actually Canyons

  1. Another interesting article:

    Revealed: How the Tobacco and Fossil Fuel Industries Fund Disinformation Campaigns Around the World

    Read time: 11 mins
    By Mat Hope • Tuesday, February 19, 2019

  2. I put a comment here about the Znose a machine that can detect ingredients… you did not ok it?

    • Did it have a link in it? It probably went to the spam folder.

    • I have not seen or heard about that brand of machine, but all the info I have seen about detection technology is either tens of thousands of dollars expensive, limited chemical detection ability, (ie doesn’t distinguish between a limited number of VOCs), doesn’t detect to the levels that disable us, and requires a smartphone or something to access the data wirelessly, which many of us are also unable to use.

      They aren’t yet where we need them to be, especially in affordability.

    • Hi Sandy!

      Please don’t put links into comments as they go into the spam folders, and I get hit with so much spam I rarely go through the folder to check to see if there’s a legit comment in there.

      If you find good info, please just copy the title and the name of the site so people can find it easily without the link.

      With links, please share them on fb, either in the groups or on my pages, and I can add them to the blog myself when needed and able. The fb groups are much better places for discussion.

  3. Action from USPIRG:

    Tell Congress: Remove gag on product injury data.

    Safety regulators are consistently prohibited from releasing injuries and deaths tied to specific consumer products, such as toys, cribs, appliances and consumer electronics. This leaves dangerous products on the market like inclined sleepers, even when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) knows dozens of infants suffocated in them.

    • Decades-Old Law Hides Dangerous Products and Impedes Recalls
      The provision has endangered children and kept parents in the dark about the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper and other products

      The law—known as Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act—requires the agency, in most cases, to get permission from manufacturers before releasing their names or any information that could reveal their identities, even when a product is linked to injuries and deaths. And when the CPSC does announce an alert or recall, companies often can restrict the information that’s released and negotiate the language used.

      In the case of the Rock ’n Play Sleeper, CR’s investigation found that the CPSC knew that the product was linked to fatalities several years before the agency or Fisher-Price issued a recall—and that happened only after CR alerted the public that the sleeper was clearly linked to infant deaths.

      Section 6(b) even restricts the information the CPSC can release through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Before the agency provides any records in response to those requests, it typically first contacts any manufacturers whose identity could be revealed to get their permission. “That not only shields companies from accountability but it also delays the release of vital information,” Wallace says. “Communications between the agency and industry can go on for months or longer.”

      He notes that CR filed an FOIA request in January 2018 for information about deaths involving liquid laundry packets, but the CPSC has yet to release those records and has repeatedly failed to meet timelines prescribed by federal regulations.

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