In 2007 and 2008, during the discussions of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act as the bill was named in the end, consumer advocates repeatedly raised the issue of secrecy at CPSC, pointing to the human cost of keeping injury data secret from consumers using the products. While advocates had hoped to remove Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act — which is an effective gag order on much safety information — what happened in the end was a public database — the ability of consumers to report injuries and incidents with products to CPSC which would then be available to other consumers making choices about those products.
According to the dedicated website at CPSC, the database will be a reality in 134 days (March 2011). The Commission was briefed by staff in a three hour session on October 20 and the final vote is expected in mid-November. CPSC staff have done yeoman’s work in creating a process that encourages use of the database as well as the accuracy of the information. Consumers, business, academic researchers and CPSC staff will be able to access crucial safety information, in many cases before a recall or serious injury or death. You can view a Q&A about the database here.
That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been push back from companies who have gotten used to dealing with their safety problems in a more secretive way. But as Rachel Weintraub of Consumer Federation of America (pictured above at a CPSC workshop on the database with Consumer Union’s Ami Gadhia) points out in an excellent article in this week’s Product Safety Forum, consumers will be the winners in the long run.