The TIA has published an analysis comparing first quarter and first half 2009 CPSC toy recalls against comparable period statistics for 2008. Total recalls are down 75% in the first quarter and 60% in the first half of this year. The comparison by units recalled and by category of recall is equally impressive.
So what does this mean? My guess is that the fundamental problem unearthed in 2007/8 was . . . compliance issues. There was NO safety issue, there was no defect in the law, there was no problem with a hobbled agency. This was, plain and simple, a case of companies ignoring or being ignorant of the law. There were also a couple of notorious and avoidable quality control breakdowns. Now, with the microscope placed over its head, the toy industry's safety issues are basically gone. Don't forget that this miraculous recall reduction occurred during a period in which the legal standards were still unchanged (first quartner 2009) and entirely in a period in which product testing IS STILL NOT REQUIRED. Does that suggest the possibility that the strictures of this law are OVERKILL? Well, I think so.
What would work fine is the prior law with better administration. Among other things, the penalties should be reconfigured (certainly to eliminate felonies except in the most egregious cases) and the self-reporting on violations should be scaled WAY BACK. The ASTM F963 standard should be also returned to voluntary status to keep things simple and focused from a regulatory standpoint. Lead-in-paint testing should REMAIN mandatory but a materiality standard (or official practice) should be adopted for violations.
Most importantly, the agency should recognize the need, the absolute URGENCY, of a liaison function with industry and of an educational mission. [This is old news.] The CPSC must take control of awareness of its rules and invest in better compliance through an enhancement of its relations with industry. Becoming the "cop on the beat" will NOT work to motivate compliance - it will motivate fear and loathing, deception and non-compliance. Good safety practices are economic for industry - because bad safety practices leads to high and unbudgeted expenses from tort and recall liability and higher insurance costs. It's in everyone's interest to behave responsibly, as long as the rules are reasonable and tailored to the need. The educational investment is no less pertinent than it is for the "Click It or Ticket" campaigns. This can be the salvation of the agency - and the children's product industry.
As Congress heads toward hearings on the CPSIA (finally), these new statistics deserve attention and analysis. A common sense approach to fixing this law can save a large industry and an important agency of the federal government while preserving the gains in compliance earned in the last two years.