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CPSC’s Public Consumer Product Safety Incident Database
Another provision of the CPSIA, aside from all the new testing and certification requirements, is the establishment of a public database. This database, tentatively titled SaferProducts.gov, is intended to provide a single central location where consumers can go to report product safety incidents, and to search for prior incidents and recalls on products they own or may be thinking about buying. If done properly, the database will be a valuable tool for all, including consumers, manufacturers, retailers, health care professionals, child care providers, testing laboratories, and other product safety experts. However, if the database is not properly executed, there could be a lot of misinformation, false accusations, and potential lawsuits from all sides.
The CPSC held a three-hour public meeting on November 10, 2009 on the database, with several panels presenting their comments to the CPSC Commissioners.
The first panel represented manufacturers and, understandably, they were most concerned about the possibility of false or inaccurate reports being included in the database and damaging the reputation of a company or a product. There are some safeguards in place to reduce the potential for “bad” information, including:
· Prior to publishing the incident report in the database, there is a 10 day period in which the manufacturer can respond to a product safety report by sending comments to the CPSC, and requesting that those comments be included in the database.
· Each submitted report is subject to a review by the CPSC to verify its authenticity.
· The CPSC has the ability to remove or correct a report that they find to be false or inaccurate.
But 10 days is not very long for a thorough evaluation of an alleged product safety issue, the CPSC will not be able to review each and every submitted report, and by the time false reports are identified and removed or corrected, the reputational damage to the company and product may already have been done.
The second panel consisted of representatives from consumer and public interest groups. They supported the public database as it will provide prompt and more detailed safety information to consumers, and criticized the formal CPSC recall procedure as an overly lengthy process that provides limited information. They strongly recommended that historical incident data be added to the database so that it can become a more comprehensive repository of product incident data, and they expressed concern over the process to remove data from the database.
The third panel discussed the technology and methodology of the CPSC database, and provided comparisons to other public safety databases such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), with the intent of learning from their successes and challenges. It is not clear yet whether the CPSC’s new database will interact with the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), a widely-used searchable database consisting of injuries from select emergency rooms across the country – but if the CPSC database is to serve as a comprehensive consumer product-related injury repository, there must be some information sharing between the two systems.
There is a March 2011 deadline for implementation of the public consumer product safety incident data. The stated objectives of the database are good – protect and inform the public, and improve CPSC’s ability to identify risks and respond quickly. It is, however, a big challenge to ensure the integrity of the information in the database and prevent it from becoming a litigation playground and a place to air grievances against a company or product.