A State of Confusion?
It seems like every week I read an article lamenting the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) and the efforts underway in Congress to roll back some of the provisions of this law. I've repeatedly commented not only on the well-intentioned but hastily and poorly written legislation but also on both the confusion and the costs that burden businesses because of CPSIA. There is a great need for both common sense and clarity as these laws continue to take effect.
Nancy Nord, one of the five CPSC commissioners, has a number of posts dedicated to this topic on her blog Conversations with Consumers. While Nord advocates common sense, unfortunately, much of conversation regarding product safety within the CPSC seems to be more about politics than it does about either product safety or common sense, and businesses are paying the price for the confusion that stems from either.
Most of us are at least aware of California Proposition 65, where the presence (rather than a specific level) of more than 800 chemicals is being regulated. Do you realize that there are at least 39 states with some form of product safety legislation? In fact, 21 states have laws or pending legislation on phthalates, at least 30 states have actual or pending BPA legislation and nearly 10 have cadmium legislation.
And there's likely more to come, as every month a new product hits the front page as being a threat to our health and safety. There is now BPA and cadmium in sales receipts, as Forbes reported in this story. Can you imagine the laws that will come out of this issue? Perhaps this can be most effectively addressed by encouraging people not to eat their receipts. I'm pretty sure sales receipts are not from one of the major food groups and are low in nutritional value. And if I'm allowing my three- and five-year-old children to eat sales receipts or suck on car keys made out of who-knows-what kind of metal, then maybe I am the most dangerous thing in my household. But then, on this topic (and perhaps only this topic), I have at least a reasonable dose of common sense.
So, if the CPSIA regulations are ever relaxed, you can bet that most, if not all, states will leap into the breach. We can expect multiple definitions of product safety and will probably be required to manage to different levels depending on the state where products will be delivered. Don't be surprised if we look back on the CPSIA and California Prop. 65 as the good ol' days.
A more relaxed legislative environment is unlikely, however. In fact, I expect the pace to pick up for state level product safety legislation. Since 2012 is an election year, a "protect the people" (aka product safety legislation) theme almost guarantees front-page coverage for the politicians. No pun intended, but it is a "safe" topic—unlike the economy and taxes. Maybe the only thing sexier to the media is the news of a major product recall and another global brand taking a major front-page hit.
Brent Stone is executive director - operations for Quality Certification Alliance (QCA), the promotional products industry's only independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping companies provide safe products. A Six Sigma Black Belt, Stone has more than 25 years of in-depth supply chain management experience with extensive expertise in process design, development, improvement and management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.qcalliance.org for more information.