The Golden Sample: Why Testing Alone Isn't Enough
What's the most common response distributors receive when asking suppliers if their products are safe? "We have tested our product." Yet in spite of this testing, I've heard countless stories from distributors and suppliers alike about how they have had to refuse product during the warehouse receiving process because inspection or random testing revealed that the product failed to meet required safety standards. While this is certainly a problem for the shipment in question, the issue is much broader. Who's to know how many other suppliers have received unsafe blank goods from the same factory as in the above example?
Of course, requesting product safety testing results from the factory about the specific item it is making for you is a natural first step. Seems easy enough, right? Unfortunately, the factory will routinely send you an outdated test report that often was done on a different, but similar, product. I've witnessed this firsthand, having once received an eight-year-old test report written in Chinese on a product that was only vaguely similar to the product I ordered.
And, sadly, I've heard of many worst-case scenarios for distributors where clients did their own testing after receiving the product and the product failed testing miserably. After all, what's a little lead—actually a lot, 7,200 ppm—have to do with getting a safe travel mug?
I have a pretty good idea of the effect these issues have on the relationship with your customer. These are among the many reasons that end-buyer clients take a "trust-but-verify" approach to product safety and compliance. They can't depend on us to reliably provide it, so they must validate it themselves at great cost and inconvenience to all parties involved.
How do these situations happen? I think there are three primary reasons:
- There is an assumption that someone knows not only what the product requirements are but are also meeting them.
- There is a "golden sample." Factories knowingly send samples they know will pass testing into the labs, and no one took responsibility to verify that actual production matches pre-production sampling.
- There is an over reliance on product testing as the only vehicle for delivering safe products.
In terms of product safety, we get what we measure. The things we measure, ironically, tell our supply chain what we value. If we do not know what product standard to measure/test against or how to ensure production matches the golden sample sent in for testing, we are left with trying to put our Humpty Dumpty project back together again after it has fallen off the proverbial wall.