Safety: It's Never Black and White
When I worked in the corporate world, I worked for a Fortune Global 500 company. When it came to sourcing brand merchandise, protecting the corporate image by mitigating damage from an unsafe promotional product was the only way to do business. At the time, at least in my mind, safety was pretty much a black or white issue. It was either safe, or it wasn't. Since then, I've come to understand that product safety is more like a thermometer. So many factors can turn safety up or turn it down; one lot of goods is compliant, the next is not. No matter where you source, or from whom, always—ALWAYS—remember that you have to operate on the principle of trust, but verify. Safety is anything but simple—that's why QCA accredits a process, NOT a product. A process by which a supplier demonstrates the protocols are in place to detect, and deter, unsafe products BEFORE they get into the marketplace.
Take the much discussed issue of Buckyballs. We've mentioned this rare earth magnet product several times here, including the recent settlement in the lawsuit between the CPSC and Buckyballs founder, Craig Zucker. As we have mentioned, there were really no winners in this case. The money paid by Mr. Zucker is a fraction of what the government sued for, the recall is unlikely to be effective, and the use of taxpayers' money was anything but optimized.
But, the REAL issue of whether Buckyballs are "safe" or not remains open. There is no question that there have been both injuries and deaths caused by several products manufactured with rare earth magnets. There is also no question that there hasn't been a single reported issue with the intended usage group. The product had a warning label, an informational website, and a sales strategy directed toward retail stores that WEREN'T exclusively toy stores. So, I am not sure where the safety thermometer is reading. But, the CPSC is clear where it reads, at least in its own mind. In a post on the Congress Blog The Hill, CPSC commissioner Marietta S. Robinson wishes "good riddance" to Buckyballs. She claims a clear victory for consumers, particularly children. While she quotes emergency room visit numbers that reflect ALL rare earth magnets, not just Buckyballs, she also goes on to say, "This lawsuit is simply the result of the CPSC carrying out its public health mission to protect the public from an unreasonably dangerous product, not about punishing anyone." I think there are many who think the jurisdiction of the CPSC in this matter, and the concept of the lawsuit as individual punishment, remain among the open issues in this case.
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.