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Consumer database is common sense solution to product safety problem

For too long, some manufacturers have tried to keep information about their defective products under wraps and away from consumers, unnecessarily increasing the risk associated with, and number of injuries and deaths caused by, these products. Wednesday could mark the beginning of the end of that practice and the start of a new chapter in product safety.

That’s when the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) will issue its final rule on the building and maintenance of an online, searchable incident database – a critical piece of the landmark Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. Expected to be launched in March, the database promises to hand over tremendous purchasing and reporting control to consumers. While consumers have long been able to report product incidents to the commission, with the online database, they can publicly submit reports of potential product hazards as well as research and review incidents that others have reported.

This represents a dramatic and positive shift for all stakeholders – consumers, makers and sellers of consumer goods, and the agency itself. But the new tool has some members of industry (and two sitting commissioners) in an unnecessary panic. Arguing that inaccurate reports about products will permeate the database, they have spurred Commissioners Nancy Nord and Anne Northrup to offer an alternative proposal to the CPSC’s published final rule. Their proposal – which contains onerous requirements that restrict information allowed into the database and deletes categories of people who can submit reports – will serve only to protect the industry at the expense of a valuable tool for consumers.

Unless they are making dangerous products, the manufacturing industry has nothing to fear from the database. The commission’s final rule complies completely with Congress’ detailed guidelines, which provide comprehensive safeguards for industry. The rule includes a five-day lag time for the agency to submit a report to a manufacturer, and the manufacturer has 10 days to take action  before the report is published on the public database. Even better, the database will help manufacturers by giving them timely information straight from consumers about potential problems with their products.

For example, there were a number of massive recalls this year of drop-side cribs whose defective rails posed a risk of suffocation and entrapment, ultimately injuring scores of children and reportedly killing at least 32 children over the past decade. Had the database existed previously, some of these deaths may have been avoided.

Starting in March, parents will be able to educate themselves about a product’s defects before placing their children in harm’s way, and that is something everyone should seek. We eagerly look forward to the commission’s approval of the final database rule and its launch next year.

Manufacturers are notorious for suppressing the truth about dangerous products – leaving consumers unaware and unprotected from serious injury and death. The CPSC is right to reject their complaints and move forward with the database, as mandated by law.

Christine Hines is the consumer and civil justice counsel for Public Citizen.