Tuesday, October 20, 2009

CPSIA - Let's Pretend We're a Resale Shop!

Who wants to play a fun game? Let's pretend we are the Salvation Army Resale Shop in your neighborhood and process some newly submitted children's products. We have to figure out if we can sell them legally because we know the CPSC is about to stop by. Sound like fun? Of course it is! I know you like to play Store.

Here are the rules of the game: I have reproduced ten children's items here. These images came from eBay and from the CPSC website. Yes, one or more of the items has been RECALLED - oooo, CPSC Chairman Tenenbaum says recalled items "[put] children's lives at risk." So in this game, you can make children in your neighborhood so, so safe if you find the "dangerous" recalled product or products. Of course, you will also avoid going to the pokey. . . . As you well know, it's illegal to resell something that was recalled, so you have to go through the drill of figuring out which of these $3.00 items are okay to sell. In today's Product Safety Letter, Randy Swart informed us: "Culling out recalled products adds another level of processing for the small retailer of reused products, but it can be done by just checking against a list."

Everybody has been saying that it's so easy to figure out which items have been recalled. After all, the CPSC has a nifty website and all you have to do is check it. Right? Let's find out. Mr. Swart gave you the link. Thanks, Randy!

I want to know how you like my contest and how quickly you were able to finish all ten items. Get out your stopwatches! No cheating - I want to know how long it took to thoroughly check each of the ten items, and how many items you think were recalled. Please don't say which one(s) were recalled since that would spoil the game for everyone else.

Btw, my contest is open to all contestants - even CPSC Professional Staff, CPSC Commissioners and Members of Congress. Don't be shy!

Ready, set, go!


Anonymous said...

I'll play.

The intellitable, the little people and I believe those faux crocs.

But the bigger issue is which of those contains lead or pthalates that exceed the new limtits?

AT LEAST I can look it up if I want to know if it is recalled. I have to use my best judgement (aks as random guess) on the other.

Again, I think we are barking up the wrong tree on the recalls. Difficult yes, the information exists and companies can comply.

It is the retro-activity of the lead & pthalates rules that are the true insanity and any sane person can see them as such. That should be the true focus here.

Kathleen Fasanella said...

I'm not going to play. Even in real life, it's a loss. I prefer to play the pretend cost game.

First, let's pretend you can hire someone who will work for minimum wage who has the capacity and acumen for research, analysis and who reads fairly quickly and well. Don't forget to add 25% overhead of the cost of their wage for what it cost you to employ them!

Now let's pretend they can complete this lot in one hour. Your total research cost for the lot is $10 which would raise the price of those $3 items, to $4 -a 30% increase!

Assuming your sales don't dive with consumers balking at a 30% price increase and being the naughty capitalist I am, I must reluctantly mention opportunity costs and profit. At this stage of the game, the mark up represents a pass through cost which represents a loss *unless* you're a not for profit employment agency with access to grants to cover inflationary pressures and ever increasing infrastructure requirements (training, equipment etc). As one is more likely to be profit minded and considering opportunity costs, you've lost the potential (and incentive) for profit, all things remaining static.

Rick Woldenberg, Chairman - Learning Resources Inc. said...

For perspective, please consider that it took me 10-12 hours to prepare the analysis in my February 2 blogpost in which I abstracted and summarized the 409 recalls for lead and lead-in-paint over a 25 month period from January 1, 2007 to January 31, 2009. That's less than two minutes per recall entry. How much time do you think it will take to process these #3.00 items against a database of 35 years of CPSC recalls? I guarantee you my "game" takes you longer than 20 minutes to complete.

I realize that it is difficult for people outside an industry to know what it's like to run a particular business. However, regulators have had a lot of contact with resale shops and issued their own guidance - they know quite bit here. In addition, my readers in the resale industry have posted innumerable blog comments about this dilemma.

The recommendation that resale shop employees "check for recalls" is remarkably impractical. I pointed this out shortly after the guidance was reissued in a blogpost on August 7. This unsolvable dilemmas and the legal risk created by the CPSIA is the reason why resale shops are notoriously closing children's departments or simply throwing out a high percentage of submitted items. The waste is shameful and hurts a segment of our society that has few alternatives. The self-congratulatory tone of those who herald this development, frankly, makes me sick. They should be ashamed.

The remedy is to analyze what the problem REALLY IS. How many kids are being actually hurt by this dreaded problem? [Basically none, I will save you the trouble.] Once we have defined the REAL problem, then what resources should we put toward remedying it? Is this really our biggest problem right now? If we are rational (no comment), then we would want to put our resources into those activities that produce the highest and best returns. [Ask an economist if I am right.] This means we would only put resources into remedying this "problem" if that's the best use of those limited resources. We probably would accord little value to impressive sound bites, too.

This is just another great illustration of the fouled-up nature of the CPSIA. I hate feeling like I am talking to myself (and a few loyal readers), but Congress and the Commission need to wake up here. The elapse of time is degrading valued and irreplaceable economic infrastructure in this country. This matters to our society. Somebody needs to stand up and tell Congress that the Emperor has no clothes.

If none of our regulators will take this step, they should acknowledge their ownership of outcomes - even though they didn't write the law they are enthusiastically implementing. There are no "free moves" in this game. It's not possible to claim credit for the good and blame others for the bad. If the regulators feel implementation of this defective law is "good" for America, no doubt they will feel a glow as its impact is felt. When the you-know-what hits the fan, however, they will own that, too.

That disaster need never happen - but they need to take action NOW.

elysabeth said...

I don't understand why they won't listen - you have done all the work and put all the facts down in plain site so everyone has access, yet the elected officials seem to turn a blind eye and deaf ear on everything. They couldn't find their (oops) if it were staring them in the face. I think this is a major tragedy and is setting the nation back 500 years to a time when kings ruled (way before America was actually a nation) - we came over on the Mayflower to get away from dictatorships and rulers and formed our own government which now looks like the government is no longer for the people by the people and has turned into a "dictatorship".

Can we impeach them all or vote them out of office and put people like you in? Who knows but I would like to see Waxman and his cohorts out on their behinds. Tennebaum used to be the Secretary of Education for South Carolina and I used to think she was pretty decent but I guess every good person has some bad in them and can be easily persuaded to come to the dark side for enough money.

The nation has totally gone to hell in a bigger than a handbasket basket - more like the Titanic and we are sinking quicker than a pile of cement blocks tied to our legs. It's disgusting how bad everything is and very little chance of recovery any time soon. We need more Demints in congress. We need more like him and you fighting for us and of course no one believed me months ago that not only is this affecting the children's markets but in the long run it will affect the adult markets too - because if the children's markets disappear and everything is because of expensive testing and stupid laws, then everything we adults buy for ourselves will see such rate increases that we won't be able to afford anything and will have to go back to the prairie days and live in burlap sacks and sleep on straw mattresses or hay bales - this has to be the worst thing implemented ever in the history of this nation and honestly I don't think the stock market crash of 1929 holds a candle to CPSIA of 2008/2009 - this is mega worse than that.

Recession my butt - Depression and hell - that's where we are now - E :)

Rick Woldenberg, Chairman - Learning Resources Inc. said...

Submitted to me by a staff person working for a Member of Congress:

"I think this is a very instructive approach. Obviously, without having the object names and/or descriptions, or the objects in hand, it is impossible. However, I thought I would give it a go, starting with the easy (!) ones.

I tried, for example, the "Ever-best" ring set because there was a name, but could not locate it under child products, toys or specialty products, or using the search. So I'm assuming that is not recalled.

I tried "crocs" and found no matches under any of the product categories. No recall.

Using the CPSC "search" function, I did find some hits for "Be Mine" (Stuffed Animal Recalled by Toy-O-Rama) but that seemed to refer to a "red mouse with a white head, red ears, and a white heart appliqué is holding a red satin heart" and your picture shows a cocker spaniel (I think). To be safe, I'm calling that recalled.

I did get 415 results for "Fisher Price" using the search but I'm not sure what that toy is. It looked like it might be musical but when I typed in "Fisher Price music" I received 542 results. So, I went back to the product categories and searched for Fisher Price under toys, getting 23 hits for "pots and pans", "kitchen toys", then "bongo band!!" which I thought might be it, then came across "Infant Musical Toy Chair" which sounded very promising; I don't think it was "Little People Animal Sounds Farm", there's an "infant and toddler toys" and "infant toys" which seems to encompass quite a lot.

So, I'm going with the Fisher Price "Infant Musical Toy Chair". Recalled.

Then I typed in "slippers" in the search and immediately found the "Toddlers Slippers Recalled by LL Bean Inc."!! Recalled.

Clearly, I'm getting the hang of this.

Then, my link to the learning resources website expired so I have to reconnect.

I tried searching "sweat suit" and got no hits, but came up with 308 for sweatshirts recalled. To be safe I'm counting this recalled.

That little four-wheeled wooden activity item has a piece on the floor. I think, to be safe, I'll call that recalled. Searching "activity cart" brings up 1,725 results and "wood activity cart" brings up 2,331 hits, so I'm pretty confident on that one.

Two to go.

Searching "shirt hood" brings up a hit for "hooded T-shirt", and searching "hooded T-shirt" brings up 551 hits, including one going back to 2004. Recalled.

Finally that little plastic guy, Bob the Builder? "Bob the Builder" brings up 12,467 hits, although, as far as I can see, mostly "Bob" or "Builder" but no BTB. I sought out a coworker and he, without promoting, said it was "Bob the Builder". So, I'm assuming it is BTB and that there is no recall.

That took me about two hours, though it was not uninterrupted. [He later corrected his time to 1.5 hours.] I feel bad for taking the time when I could have been doing something that my boss might think was more productive, but given all the time I've invested in understanding what is going on here and pursuing CPSC, I thought I'd give it a go.

How'd I do? Answers please."

Rick Woldenberg, Chairman - Learning Resources Inc. said...

The response posted by the Congressional staffer above is certainly instructive. Without giving away the answers to my contest, I can say that he had difficulty in figuring out the answer. Remember, he is a person with a lot of education and sophistication. I happen to know that this person is also well-informed about the CPSIA, the CPSC and its website. He is certainly among a group of people best-equipped to handle this chore, and he failed.

Spending 90 minutes on this task means he spent 9 minutes per item. In January, I spent 2 minutes per item. Is it realistic to think that anyone will spend this amount of time on this chore long term? Remember, this is the NEW, modern game of Store. When you play Store with your kids, be sure to include web searches for recalls as part of the game play.

I believe no one at the CPSC actually tried their own guidance before issuing it on an unsuspecting public. Okay, CPSC, just check your website with my pictures and see how it feels to be us now. Remember, too, that it won't be YOU or a Congressional staff person who does the checking, either. It will be a minimum wage worker unlikely to have good education or good technical skills. Some of these people may in fact be highly qualified, but in the real world, but most will not.

That's the real world. If the CPSC wants its safety system to work and if it wants more respect in the media, it needs to create rules that work in the REAL world. These rules don't work . . . because the underlying law is highly and notoriously defective. Tell Congress, or accept the consequences (lousy implementing rules, embarrassing news reports, failed policies).

Michael said...

The nice thing about this example is that someone with actual power to make a change to CPSIA can have the experience first hand and convince themselves one way or another whether a workable obligation has been put into place. In this case, the answer is no, something any member of government can prove for themselves.

On the other hand, short of public hearings in which an offical forum is provided for real victims of CPSIA to present their case, no one in a positon to influence needed change will experience the magnitude of the problem. The folks in Congress and the CPSC need to understand that once the genie is out of the bottle, it is too late - without legislative corrections to the underlying law.

The company I am responsible for has a customer (one of the largest distributors in the industry that we supply) that has dropped six of our products in the last two months because XRF scanning indicated lead in paint. Anyone who is paying attention to the documents that CPSC puts out knows that YOU CANNOT RELY ON XRF SCANNERS TO CORRECTLY IDENTIFY LEAD IN PAINT - only lead in substrate. Paint or coatings must be tested using destructive methods. For three of these six products we were immediately able to provide testing certificates from third party labs showing that the product DOES NOT exceed lead levels for coatings OR substrate. The other three products are not even children's products. One was a teacher's guide with black line masters (reproducibles) with suggested activities.

The 'genie' of using XRF Scanners for screening for lead is out of the bottle called CPSIA. Six to eight months later, after companies have invested in rather expensive scanners and training for the use of scanners, the CPSC has come back and said 'never mind' on using scanning for lead in paint. It's too late! The investment has been made, the decision process is in stone and perfectly safe (tested) product is being denied one more point of access to the end user.

And by a company that is big enough to be wrong - it won't bankrupt them.

Congress needs to take the time to ACTUALLY address safety in the market place by amending the CPSIA. Real people with real children are losing real jobs (or even worse, their life's work) to a misguided attempt that completely missed the mark on children's safety.

Please take away the bottle (or at least correctly manage it) so my customers will quit worrying about the non-existent genie.

Lesley Fleming said...

I can't even get a straight answer from my Congressman (David Price)- even his DC office staff simply do not UNDERSTAND anything about this law. I have repeatedly called for guidance and they send me information which I KNOW is wrong. I feel like I'm in Twilight Zone. They tell me not to worry because I am a resaler (ha) except that I made it clear to them that I am a MANUFACTURER (duh.) Recently I called and emailed again because I cannot seem to get any clarification on whether my clear plastic buttons for adjustable waistbands need to be tested for phalates as well as lead, or if that is just for food-related products. I GOT NO REPLY. I wouldn't know where to go for testing anyway, since all the labs I saw that were approved were conveniently overseas. I reckon I may have to remove that much-beloved adjustable waist option, thus putting myself at a further disadvantage from overseas competitors.I am truly shocked and disgusted that the US manufacturers are completely disregarded. Especially in this economy, with mounting American job loss, one would think it logical to protect your home-grown businesses.

On an even sillier note, the button supplier I use told me that a child would have to swallow at least 20 buttons containing trace amounts of lead to be at any risk of being harmed by lead. No garment contains anywhere near this many buttons and one would think the choking hazard would have superceded the lead concern at this point. Based on the logic coming from Congess, I think we need to worry about the lead in the water in DC, because there sure isn't any in my clothing (yes, I tested it).

-Lesley Fleming

Rick Woldenberg, Chairman - Learning Resources Inc. said...

Lesley, I try not to give legal advice in my blog. I think your questions can be answered by your trade association. You sound like you are possibly in the AAFA - they are very helpful. In any event, you should check out the phthalates ban in the CPSIA because I think you can answer this question for yourself:


(a) PROHIBITION ON THE SALE OF CERTAIN PRODUCTS CONTAINING PHTHALATES.—Beginning on the date that is 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, it shall be unlawful for any person to manufacture for sale, offer for sale, distribute in commerce, or import into the United States any children’s toy or child care article that contains concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate
(DBP), or benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP).


(1) INTERIM PROHIBITION.—Beginning on the date that is 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act and until a final rule is promulgated under paragraph (3), it shall be unlawful for any person to manufacture for sale, offer for sale, distribute in commerce, or import into the United States any children’s toy that can be placed in a child’s mouth or child care article that contains concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), or di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP).

The definitions of some of these terms is found in the same section. You can find this law posted on the CPSC website: www.cpsc.gov.