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The Challenge of Keeping Hazardous Consumer Products Off the Market

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Keeping Hazardous Consumer Products Off the Market.


According to a recent report by Congress’s independent watchdog agency, the U.S. Government Accountability Office(GAO), American consumers may face unwarranted risks of death or injury from some of the products they buy. TheConsumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) – the independent agency charged with “protecting U.S. consumers against death or injury from unsafe products” – often struggles to meet its mandate, according to the GAO.


The report found that the CPSC has trouble responding quickly and effectively to new and emerging product risks. For example, the CPSC has long struggled to protect consumers from hazards associated with window coverings. In the early nineties, the Commission received reports of children becoming entangled in window blind cords and, ultimately, dying. In 1994, the CPSC began working with industry representatives, individual companies, and consumer groups on voluntary recalls and safety standards for window blinds. This October, after two decades of trying to reach a consensus, the CPSC voted to begin a process to set mandatory standards. During the intervening years, nearly 200 childrendied in window cord accidents.


This lag between risk identification and risk resolution is not uncommon, according to the GAO. While the CPSC has jurisdiction over a broad range of products, its regulatory power is constrained by several factors, including resource limitations, barriers to information sharing, and an approach to regulation and enforcement that relies heavily on industry’s voluntary cooperation.



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