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CPSIA Update - Children's Products Containing Lead; Interpretative Rule on Inaccessible Component Parts

August 31, 2009

In time for the August 14 anniversary of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), the CPSC issued their final interpretative rule on inaccessible component parts.  This is important because inaccessible component parts do not have to comply with the lead content limits of CPSIA, and do not need to be tested and certified as to lead content. Accessible component parts and materials, however, do require testing and certification, and compliance, to the lead content limits, unless otherwise specifically excluded.

The Act itself provides for an exception for inaccessible component parts, defined as “any component part of a children’s product that is not accessible to a child through normal and reasonably foreseeable use and abuse of such product, as determined by the Commission.  A component part is not accessible…if such component part is not physically exposed by reason of a sealed covering or casing and does not become physically exposed through reasonably foreseeable use and abuse of the product.  Reasonably foreseeable use and abuse shall include to, swallowing, mouthing, breaking, or other children’s activities, and the aging of the product.”

The Commission has taken a common sense approach in determining accessibility, and the below will be codified in 16 CFR 1500.87.  

Based on the Commission’s determination, you have an accessible part if the component part can be accessed using the standard accessibility probes specified in 16 CFR 1500.48 and 1500.49, the sharp point and sharp edge regulations.  If the probe can access the part, a child may also be able to touch that component part and it must comply with CPSIA lead content limits (again, unless the material is specifically excluded).

Accessibility using these “finger probes” is determined both before (“as received”) and after use and abuse testing.  Use and abuse testing consists of the standard tests per 16 CFR 1500.50 – 1500.53 (excluding the bite test).  This is the reasonably foreseeable use and abuse of the product.

Interestingly, the regulations referenced above (16 CFR 1500.48-1500.53) apply only up to 8 years (96 months) whereas CPSIA children’s product requirements apply through 12 years of age.  The Commission has confirmed that for products intended for children over 8 years through 12 years of age, the use and abuse tests in 16 CFR 1500.50 and 1500.53 are to be applied.  These tests are only applied to determine accessibility for purposes of lead compliance, but this is a major change in application of the standard use and abuse tests as 8+ items had not previously been subject to these tests.  

It is important to note that paint, coatings, or electroplating is not considered to be a sufficient barrier that would render lead in the substrate to be inaccessible to a child.  Therefore, these coatings – even if they make the actual substrate material inaccessible to physical touch – do not exempt the underlying substrate material from lead content testing and compliance.  Just because an accessible component part is painted or electroplated, the material is still subject to lead content compliance.

The issue of fabric coverings and accessibility (and lead compliance) is an interesting one.  In general, a fabric covered component part is considered inaccessible as long as the fabric is able to withstand the standard use and abuse testing discussed above, including seam strength.  If seam opens during testing, and the accessibility probe can touch the internal component, it must comply with CPSIA lead content requirements.  This makes sense, but there is an exception.  If the fabric covered part in any one dimension is smaller than 5 centimeters, it is subject to CPSIA lead content requirements including the internal and inaccessible component part.  The reason is that mouthing or swallowing of a component part this small could occur, and the fabric covering is not considered to keep the internal part from becoming accessible.  This size exception only applies to fabric covered parts.

The issue of breaking or aging of the product was not specifically determined by the Commission.  They did advise that intentional disassembly or destruction of products by older children “by means or knowledge not generally available to younger children, including use of tools” is not a consideration in determining accessibility of lead-containing components.  Reasonably foreseeable use and abuse applies – intentional destruction of the product does not.  This is a common sense approach to determining accessibility.