Anyone who has been following the progress of the consumer product safety reform legislation, H.R. 4040, closely knows that a proposed database housing consumer complaints has been one of the major points of contention during the legislative process. (We have previously discussed the database here.) While the conference committee negotiates the contours of the safety database, we have this story:
In 2002, engineers from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) privately warned nail gun
makers that the nail gun industry’s efforts to reduce the rising number
of injuries with its tools wouldn’t really work; this, according to
recently disclosed federal documents.
For some reason, the CPSC
engineers’ views, warnings, and requests for additional study of nail
guns safety features, were not addressed or disclosed publicly to US
consumers. Meanwhile, thousands of workers and home consumers
continued to buy or rent nail guns at giant hardware stores nationwide
during the country’s most recent housing boom. Because of this, those
sent to hospitals—both workers and home consumers—with hand, foot,
knee, and head injuries that were caused by air-powered nail guns
climbed to 42,000 in 2005, up significantly from 12,982 in 2000,
according to federal hospital injury data.
This is a perfect example of the necessity of a public repository of consumer safety complaints. If the proposed database had existed at the time of these nail-gun injuries, the hospital injury data would have been entered in the database and available to the public. Consumers could have seen the upward trend in nail gun-related injuries and known to avoid that particular product. This is not a one-time story. As one of our recent reports demonstrates, industry and the CPSC are failing drastically to warn consumers promptly about serious product hazards.
With a product safety database available on the Internet, consumers will not have to rely as much on the manufacturers or the CPSC to protect them. They will be able to help themselves by doing their own research. A free exchange of information will save government resources and make everyone safer.