Magnets: When Opposites Don’t Attract
This is a story of polar opposites—positive and negative, and when it comes to promotional magnet products, they don’t attract much more than negative attention.
You probably remember all the controversy surrounding Buckyballs just last year. They are the powerful magnets that made the best argument of understanding intended use and audience of your promotional products, and doing a risk assessment.
While it was easy to see that they were marketed and positioned as executive gifts, the reality of the potential danger to children who might ingest them was cause for concern. Claims by the manufacturer that the more than 2 million sets sold were marketed as adult novelty toys, and came with warning labels, fell on deaf ears at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), despite the fact that no deaths had occurred from children swallowing them. The CPSC and Maxfield & Oberton locked horns, a mandatory recall was enforced, the company closed, and the CPSC is looking to hold the CEO liable for recall costs of more than $50 million.
Fast-forward to last week, when the CPSC held public hearings to introduce new standards planned for products using or containing magnets. Several experts testified in favor of the new rules, basically not allowing ANY products to have magnets of either a certain strength OR of a size considered a choking hazard. “The CPSC’s previous actions—including improving warnings, publishing public service announcements, and recalling of existing products—were necessary and appropriate, but it is clear that additional steps are needed to protect public safety,” said Ami Gadhia, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union. Here’s an image of a magnet from a Buckyball compared to a standard choking-test cylinder, which is a tiny bit wider than a quarter.
|Image Credit: Consumer Reports|
But, there are those who think the polar opposite is true—that this new set of rules amounts to overreach by the CPSC, and the hearings allowed for only one point of view. The chairman of the International Consumer Magnet Association has filed an informal complaint suggesting that the CPSC has purposely not included manufacturers of the very products they are seeking increased regulation of. Tim Szeto, who is both chairman of the magnet association and founder of Nano Magnetics (a manufacturer of a product similar to Buckyballs), has asked for another hearing. He suggests that the CPSC is “promoting a ban of consumer magnets” by not allowing both sides of the issue to speak on the matter in the hearing.
Our thought on getting another hearing is that it is just not likely. When the manufacturer of Buckyballs refused the CPSC’s recall request initially, it became the first company since Daisy and BB Guns 11 years ago to do so. When the company launched a public campaign to challenge the commission, the CPSC entrenched its position, and, as suggested in a Wall Street Journal article: What Happens When a Man Takes on The Feds, even went on the offensive—looking to the unprecedented $50 million personal liability of an executive for a recall, even when a corporate entity is in place.
Discussing products made for adults and not intended for children is all well and good. Until you read national headlines or watch your evening news and hear news of a toddler dying from ingesting a small battery (not discovered until the autopsy). Then write an article on the topic and do a quick Google search for more battery-related deaths, you quickly realize this is no small problem. And a Buckyball set? Consisting of more than 200 tiny magnets. That’s a lot of risk.
How about you—do stories like this make you think twice regarding the need for risk assessments for ALL your products?
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Jeff is executive director of the Quality Certification Alliance (QCA). Prior to that, he was responsible for developing safe and compliant brand merchandise for Michelin. He has worked with brands in publishing, consumer products, broadcasting and film for over 30 years. Follow Jeff on Twitter, and QCA on Facebook.