From Reactive to Proactive: Redefining Safety Standards in the Promotional Industry (A Four-Part Series)
The following article is the third installment in our monthlong Promo Marketing Headlines series titled, “From Reactive to Proactive: Redefining Safety Standards in the Promotional Industry.” Throughout the next four weeks, we will discuss product testing, quality assurance and how both suppliers and distributors can work in tandem to ensure the items they sell are safe for children and adults alike.
Part 3: Testing Issues and Areas of Concern
At the heart of the recent California lunch-box recall—and others like it—was something perhaps more alarming than simple carelessness. Reduce the event down to a common denominator, and it becomes clear that a lack of awareness, rather than intentional negligence, was the defining factor. Both supplier David Chen, CEO of T-A Creations, and distributor Marla Kaye, You Name It Promotions’ president, reported testing the lining of the toxic lunch box, but that was the extent of the effort. “I just don’t know what happens in China enough to know how to really do this [testing]. This is why we go to our vendors … they’re supposed to be the ones that know,” said Kaye. Despite several red lights that should have been heeded by the company—including a lawsuit and FDA letter—Chen, too, admits to a certain level of confusion with regard to the proper standards by which he should be complying.
Sadly, he’s probably not alone. The sheer volume of information out there on product safety, especially for children’s items, is staggering, not to mention bewildering.
The Lead Conundrum
When it comes to issues of lead, some argue the waters are the murkiest. According to Charles Margulis, communications director at the Oakland, California–based Center for Environmental Health, the Center for Disease Control says there is no safe level of lead exposure for kids. Yet, he added, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) continues to default to inadequate testing practices to determine what’s safe. “Unfortunately what we have today, under our federal regulatory system, is a case-by-case basis. The government said, ‘a little bit of lead in a lunch box is okay, a little bit of lead in a baby bib is okay, a little bit of lead in kids’ jewelry is okay,’ because they look at each case in isolation,” Margulis said. However, since lead is a cumulative toxin—meaning, it builds up in a child’s system with each exposure—this line of thinking is especially dangerous. “The Consumer Product Safety Commission has no standard for lead in kids’ products, they only have a standard for lead paint. And this isn’t an issue of paint, it’s an issue of the material itself,” he affirmed. “The problem is, kids don’t live in a case-by-case world. Kids live in a real world … all those exposures add up.”
For the promotional products industry, the CPSC is one of the only governmental organizations dedicated to the issue of compliance. But be that as it may, Margulis isn’t the only one who believes the CPSC isn’t proceeding with due caution on issues of lead and product safety. According to a September 28, 2007 press release issued by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, a legislative hearing on the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act of 2007 had been scheduled for early October of this year. Should the bill be passed, the CPSC would be in store for numerous positive changes including budget and staffing increases; an upgrade of the CPSC’s research, development and testing facility; and stricter penalties for violators of the Consumer Product Safety Act. The Act also will ban lead in children’s products altogether and require more stringent labeling to aid in product recalls.
What (Else) to Watch For …
Though the issue of lead has been the media “darling” of recent months, and particularly affects the promotional products industry, toxicity is not the only danger that should impel action. The CPSC’s standards on issues, such as small parts and sharp edges are just as important, yet similarly, the rules are only slightly more spelled out. Here are a few of its explanations and points of caution for manufacturers and distributors of children’s products:
• Small parts: According to a small-parts regulatory summary sheet, which was created by the CPSC’s Office of Compliance in 2001 and summarizes the requirements published in the Code of Federal Regulations, “A small part is any object that fits completely into a specially designed test cylinder 2.25 inches long by 1.25 inches wide.” This is the approximate size of the fully expanded throat of a child under three years old, it continued. The information goes on to detail when and where labeling is appropriate as well as which, if any, additional warnings are required and where to go for supplemental information.
• Sharp points/edges: The CPSC’s publication, For Kids’ Sake: Think Toy Safety, details that, by regulation, “new toys intended for children under eight years of age … should be free of sharp glass and metal edges.” However, this is not simply in the toy’s design. If a toy can break apart and expose a child to sharp edges, it could be subject to a recall. Title 16, Volume 2, Part 1500, Sections 48 and 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, found on the organization’s Web site, provides technical requirements as well as testing procedures.
• Flammability: This term is most commonly seen in conjunction with mattresses and sleepwear, however, past CPSC recalls for flammability have included stuffed toys and spray string. The Federal Hazardous Substances Act defines the term “hazardous substance” as, among other things, anything that is flammable or combustible. Unfortunately, various searches on the CPSC’s Web site failed to turn up any testing information or defined regulations where toys are concerned.
• Food safety: Regulations on food, as well as food packaging, are covered by the Food and Drug Administration. To be on the safe side, promotional products suppliers and distributors should consider anything that potentially comes into contact with food (e.g. lunch boxes) as “food packaging,” and thus, default to the FDA first for testing protocol.
… And What’s In Place to Watch You
The CSPC and FDA aside, there are various other watchdogs on product safety and standardization with which promotional products distributors and suppliers should start getting very familiar. Here’s a sampling below:
• ASTM International: A West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania–based independent and voluntary standards development organization. It not only works to create product safety standards to improve the quality of items within the global market, but it also provides resources such as training courses, proficiency testing for laboratories to ensure their procedures are sound, as well as symposia and workshops. Its Web site states: “Participation in ASTM International is open to all with a material interest, anywhere in the world.” For more information, visit www.astm.org.
• Proposition 65: Otherwise known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, this encompasses California’s very own statutes, which according to the Web site for California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, “was intended … to protect California citizens and the State’s drinking water sources from chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm, and to inform citizens about exposures to such chemicals.” For more information, visit www.oehha.ca.gov/prop65.html.
• EN71: The European standard for toy safety. While it is considered to be the international testing standard, and its three main areas focus on issues of flammability, toxicity and physical properties, products distributed in the United States must pass their own set of regulations. For more information, visit www.toyretailersassociation.co.uk/safety/standards.htm” target=”_blank”>www.toyretailersassociation.co.uk/safety/standards.htm .