Playing By the Rules
Compliance is a difficult subject. It's hard to memorize all of the rules. General use products have an extensive list of requirements and children's products have even more, but what about when a general use product becomes a children's product? We spoke to three industry suppliers to gather a few tips on what to look out for when potentially transforming bags, writing instruments or drinkware into a children's item.
Shopping bags and totes are general use items, but alterations, such as a adding a child-friendly logo, reducing the size, or offering it in a bright color, among other things, could make it a children's product, as is the case with any general use product.
"Occasionally, we'll import custom [children's] bags/backpacks from China. For those types of items, we check to make sure no drawstrings and small parts are used, and they are tested for CPSIA [Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act] compliance," Angela John, director of regulatory compliance and product safety for Sun Coast Merchandise, Commerce, Calif., said, warning that although drawstrings are not regulated on children's bags as they are in apparel, they should be avoided.
Since imprints are a common way general use items cross over and become children's items, Sun Coast puts in extra care to meet compliance requirements when a children's logo is requested. "When we do come across a logo that's incredibly child-friendly, we have trained our customer representatives to elevate that order to the compliance department," John said.
However, the biggest concern in bags is with the PVC coating, which often contains phthalates and is applied to the inside of a bag to make the fabric sturdier. According to CPSIA, three phthalate types (DEHP, DBP and BBP) are banned, while three other variations (DINP, DIDP and DnOP) are regulated at 1,000 ppm per phthalate. "Within the industry, there is a lot more effort to switch out of PVC completely, but because of the price point, it is something that suppliers tend to use a lot," she said. "However, PVC is a highly susceptible for phthalates (regulated by CPSIA) so we tend to avoid PVC in children's products and suggest alternatives to our customers due to the high risk."
While phthalates also are a concern for writing instruments, John mentioned another priority is to ensure lead levels are below federal standards of 90 ppm for surface coatings and 100 ppm for substrates. "When lead is being tested, you have to test it to the substrate, which is the actual blank product, and then you have to test it for the surface coating, which would be the logo," she said. "Testing should always cover both standards."
Sun Coast uses its X-ray fluorescence (XRF) equipment that screens for heavy metals to ensure sample products' lead levels fall below CPSIA regulations. "Before sending it to a lab for third-party testing, one of the approaches we have adopted is to screen all approval samples or incoming samples for heavy metals using a XRF, so we can communicate the results to our supplier before it goes into lab testing," John said. "It helps us eliminate numerous rounds of testing and it helps us create greater accountability for our suppliers. […] If I'm finding high-levels of lead at the sample level, I can stop that right away before the unit goes into mass production."
John suggested keeping your end-user and their location in mind when determining the right product. If a product will end up in a school or other setting where children may get their hands on it, the supplier tests it to CPSIA standards as a precaution. "You have to think of your end-user, and [where a product will be used is] a common question we ask whenever we get any orders," John said. "We ask for the age grade. We ask where the distribution location is. As promo items, you never know where it's going to end up at, so we try to gather as much information as possible to help us classify that product as either general use or children's product."
Lead and phthalates are big concerns in children's drinkware as well, but possible choking hazards, sharp edges or points and other dangers also should be evaluated to conform to the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. Any found hazards would require labeling. Anything from a small carabiner to an unattached cap could be the reason a product isn't compliant for a certain age grade. "Our product development has one of these choking hazard measurement cups, and they will [use it] when they're looking at products or playing around with it and considering, 'Could it be a children's product?' ... [to] avoid any choking issues," Kim Collins, director of marketing for Crown Products, Mobile, Ala., said.
Crown's Paws N Claws Flat Bottle endured a lot of testing before it was available for sale. It has a large carabiner and tethered cap, and the supplier even had the plastic sealing ring removed to ensure there were no issues. "We had to have [the manufacturer] remove that sealing ring because it didn't keep it from not being sealed, but it could come loose, and we told them we don't want it because it's a choking hazard," Cynthia Steele, Crown's compliance officer, said.
It's also helpful to keep end-users' other children in mind. Since many consider their pets as their children, Sun Coast's policy is to treat all pet items, including drinkware, as children's products too. "For pets' products, I usually consider them a children's item because there's very little guidance available on it," John said. "But from my experience so far, our distributors have given us guidance to treat them as a children's product, and that's kind of the approach we have used so far."
Across the Board
This is just a brief overview of what additional obstacles you could face through CPSIA if these products also are deemed a children's product. If the product is determined to be a toy as well, it would be subject to even more CPSIA regulations. "That's the main thing we'll look at—does this have play factor? Will a child be attracted to it? Because even though an item isn't made for a kid doesn't mean a kid's not going to want to play with it," Steele said.
There are also some rules that apply to all children's items, such as inclusion of a tracking label that must include the manufacturer's name, location and date of production, and other identifying information, such as the lot, purchase order, and item numbers. "Tracking label's functions really are to give you the ability to track back the place where it was made and the time it was made," Josh Kasteler, compliance manager for Gemline, Lawrence, Mass., said. "Some companies approach this differently, but it's important that the consumer has some ability to find a way to contact the manufacturer [or] the importer on record."
Additionally, children's products not only need a General Conformity Certificate (GCC), but also a Children's Product Certificate (CPC) from the manufacturer or importer. These documents show it is compliant to all applicable laws for that product. The actual certificate is viewed at customs when entering the U.S. and by any customer who wants to ensure a product's compliancy. "You want to work with a supplier that really has these documents available—not only knows what they are, but can easily give them [to you]," he said. "You can go on Gemline's website, put in your lot number on the tag and get the GCC automatically or have it sent to you. So you want to make sure your suppliers can do that."