Today at the International Consumer Product Health & Safety Organization annual meeting, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Acting Chairman Bob Adler delivered the keynote address. Adler provided some insight into his priorities for the Commission for the foreseeable future, recognizing that he is currently the Acting Chairman and a Democrat—with the presidential election coming in November, it is unclear how much longer he will be in this role. Overall, he intends to focus on providing stability to the Commission for however long he is the Acting Chairman. Beyond this, here is a rundown of his comments and his specific priorities, with his statement on increased use of civil penalties and unilateral safety warnings topping the list of worrisome developments:
- Increased use of unilateral safety warnings: in an effort to more quickly communicate CPSC’s belief that a product is dangerous, he has instructed staff to more readily issue unilateral safety warnings when a company will not agree to take corrective action (for context, CPSC has already issued three safety warnings this year after having rarely used this communications tool for many years).
- Increased use of civil penalties: after what looks like a dramatic decline in the use of civil penalties since 2017 (especially for Section 15(b) failure to report), Adler has directed CPSC staff to make sure it uses every tool at its disposal to promote public safety, which includes civil penalties. He echoed his own prior statements and those of former Chairman Elliott Kaye that Congress’s increase of civil penalty thresholds in 2008’s Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was a clear message to CPSC to increase the use of this tool.
- Section 6(b) frustration: He expressed his continued displeasure with Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act, which sets forth a procedure CPSC must follow before releasing product/manufacturer-specific information to the public. Adler said that no other comparable regulatory agency is forced to get manufacturer consent prior to releasing specific safety information, and the “endless and frivolous objections” delay the dissemination of product safety information to the public.
- New mandatory standards: addressing a product safety issue that CPSC has focused on over the years, Adler stated that writing of a mandatory standard addressing furniture tip-over is “well underway.” Beyond this CPSC priority, Adler noted that the Commission will continue progress on standards for crib bumpers, inclined sleepers, and other children’s products.
- Creation of Consumer Ombudsman position: acknowledging that consumer access to CPSC is paramount, Adler announced the creation of this role, tasked with creating a central place for consumers to contact and interact with the Commission.
- Increased inclusion of all stakeholder groups in the creation of voluntary standards: Adler expressed admiration for the effectiveness and seriousness of voluntary standards organizations (e.g., ANSI, ASTM), but still noted disappointment that voluntary standards do not always reflect the consensus of all stakeholders. He advocated for greater inclusion of consumers, NGOs, and small businesses.