Time to Take a Closer Look at the Test Reports in Your Files
With the deadline for mandatory third party lead testing less than two months away, now would be a very good time to take a closer look at the third-party test reports in your files. There's a good chance that upon closer inspection you might find that for certain products the reports you're relying on for compliance might not be very reliable.
In the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), Congress mandated that an accredited third party laboratory must test children's products before they can be distributed in commerce. Testing for lead in paint or surface coating has been required since December of 2008. Testing for lead in substrate will take effect on January 1, 2012.
So what are the reliability concerns I'm raising?
While some question the accuracy of the tests—by showing inconsistent results from one lab to the next-that isn't the issue I see. My concern is more serious-that some of the test reports you receive may not even be for the same product that you're selling. In those cases, the reports are not reliable and provide a false sense of security to you and to your customers.
Here's one way that happens: Instead of ordering tests for their own products, U.S. importers often turn to their overseas factories for testing. But some of these factories-particularly ones that supply similar versions of their products to multiple customers in the US-may try to mitigate the cost by testing only a small subset of their products-sometimes only one SKU out of a varied line of products. Instead of testing the actual products as produced for each of their customers, they send a generic version of their product to a lab and then they give these test results to every customer who requests a test report. I've seen tests like this more times than I can count.
So what's the problem with this practice?
Well, there's no problem with a U.S. importer having their overseas factory order the testing from an accredited lab as long as the tested version of the product is exactly the same in all material respects as the product they're selling-same item, same finish, same color, same trim, same design, same paint and substrate materials, same raw material supplier, and the same factory. But that's often not the case.
The more common scenario is that the generic version is similar but different from your product. It might be a different material or color, have different trim details or include additional features from the generic version. Any of these differences requires a separate third party test.
Another possibility is that the report you have is for a completely different product from yours. Overseas factories don't always test every product they produce. I've seen cases where a factory will respond to a test request by sending any report they have in their files. Unless the US firm receiving the report is trained in what to look for, these reports are often accepted as is and passed along to customers.
So how can you tell if your report is really for your product?
- Is the product named in the report exactly the same way as it is listed on the web or in the catalog where you found it? If your product is a Bonzo HT-341 in midnight blue, does the test report say Bonzo HT-341 in midnight blue? Be wary of reports with generic product descriptions like "Plastic Bottle" or "Tote Bag" and few product details.
- Does the test report include a picture of the product? Is the picture exactly the same as your product and does it include your color? The best test reports include detailed photographs of the actual products tested.
- Look for the name of the company who ordered the test. Is it the same as the company you are buying the product from or is it a company you've never heard of? There's no problem with tests ordered by overseas factories if they're for your actual product but be wary of reports ordered by factories for generic versions of their products.
These tips are just a few of the basics in evaluating test reports. I've listed several others in my September 30th article If You Sell Promotional Products, Learn to Read a Test Report. And if you're a PPAI member, check out the November 2nd webinar entitled How to Read a Test Report. It is archived on PPAI's website.
Test reports are an important part of your due diligence to ensure that the products you're selling comply with applicable law. Your customers are relying on the integrity of the reports you provide. Take this opportunity to go through your files to verify that you have current test reports for the products you're selling and that the reports really are for your specific products.