CPSC's Exemptions to Third-party Testing Create Compliance Confusion
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has announced a program that could relieve some manufacturers from the burdens of product safety testing. The Small Batch Manufacturer's Registry will provide qualifying manufacturers exemptions to the complicated and costly testing requirements found in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
The Small Batch Manufacturer's Registry will allow manufacturers to forego third-party testing on certain classes of products if they meet two requirements: first, that the manufacturer has $1 million or less in sales per year; and second, that they produce no more than 7,500 units of the covered product per year. Companies that fulfill both of these requirements can register with SaferProducts.gov to receive the exemption for the particular items and be listed on registry on that site.
Acceptance onto the Small Batch Manufacturer's Registry does not exempt a company from CPSIA's product safety compliance requirements. Qualifying companies are permitted to forego additional third-party testing on children's products, but they still must be compliant and issue a general certificate of conformity (GCC) for all appropriate items.
Additionally, not all children's products are eligible for third-party testing relief. Manufacturers must always receive outside testing for lead in paint and outside coatings, as well as for pacifiers, children's metal jewelry and other classes of items intended for infants and toddlers. Testing requirements which can be waived include lead in the substrate (as opposed to surface) of children's products, bicycles and children's sleepwear. A list of required and exempt categories is available on the CPSC's website.
Brent Stone, executive director - operations for the Quality Certification Alliance, the promotional products industry's only independent organization dedicated to product safety and compliance, was skeptical about the benefits of the Small Batch Manufacturer's Registry.
"It's highly unlikely that the CPSC will ever announce anything that relieves people from the responsibility of making sure a product is safe and compliant," he said. "And I don't know how you do that in our industry without testing."
Stone doesn't anticipate the testing exemptions will see much of a presence in the promotional products industry. One reason pertains to the size limitations for exemption, which rules out a majority of manufacturers. The other, more salient concern pertains to the wording that requires testing on "lead-in-paint and other surface coatings."
"Paint in surface coatings basically means decoration in our industry," he explained. Surface coatings top the CPSC's list of third-party tests that must be given, and because most promotional products will feature some sort of printed logo on the surface, they will always require the highest levels of testing. "So you've got to test that anyway, even if you are a small batch manufacturer," Stone said.
According to Rick Brenner, CEO of Prime Line and board director for PPAI, it is those surface coating decorations that make more products, and therefore more suppliers and distributors, subject to the CPSIA's oversight. "In the promotional products industry, a great many of the products that are 'children's products' only become so after they are imprinted," he said.
A Sesame Street plush doll would be considered a children's product, but a drawstring bag would not. However, if that bag is sold with a Sesame Street logo, it is now subject to the same testing requirements as the toy. If the manufacturer did not submit the bag to third-party testing, that item is now in violation of CPSIA, and affiliated parties are subject to fines from $5,000 to $100,000 for individual violations and imprisonment for up to five years.
"I am a proponent of a 'best practice' where suppliers highlight on their website all products that have been third-party tested—to give distributors the peace of mind that any of those products can be sold for children," Brenner said. "If a small firm seeks an exemption and does not third-party test any products, how would a distributor know which of their products are compliant and which ones are not?"
The exemptions were created to benefit small, local businesses that create children's products but cannot afford the extra compliance testing. However, the risks for distributors are not limited to buying products from smaller American manufacturers.
"CPSIA defines an importer as a manufacturer," Brenner explained. "So you could have someone importing products without any third-party testing and without knowing anything about the factory where the products are produced or the materials used by the factory."
"Take the example of a small firm who goes on an Asian sourcing site like Alibaba.com, finding a stuffed toy manufacturer, importing 5,000 stuffed bears, and never submitting the products to third party toy testing, phthalate testing, lead-in-substrate testing or lead-in-surface-coating testing. It may be that the importer verified with the overseas factory that the products are compliant, but without third-party testing of the production pieces there is no assurance," he said.
The Small Batch Manufacturer's Registry began accepting applications at the end of December, when the stay of enforcement on testing and certification for children's products ended. In a statement announcing the registry, the CPSC reinforced that those companies granted exemption from third-party testing are not granted exemption from compliance. Manufacturers must still provide a certificate of conformity stating that the products comply with all federal regulations, and "you cannot ensure compliance without using testing as part of the compliance program," Stone said. "It doesn't release you from your legal and moral obligation to deliver safe products."
Listing on the registry, which was created as part of the CPSIA reforms signed by President Obama on August 12, is given on a per-year basis, and qualifying manufacturers must provide evidence that they meet both requirements annually. Visit SaferProducts.gov for more information.