In a remarkable demonstration of the anti-business bias of the current CPSC, Chairman Inez Tenenbaum took to the air today to bash toys and to take our old friend Mattel to task for four recalls of more than eleven million units.
Uh-oh, Mattel's at it again. Hope this doesn't mean it's time for another CPSIA. It is Election time, after all.
The CPSC Commission hosed us on Wednesday with its decision on the definition of "Children's Products". [Here is the approved definition.] I will write about this in the next few days. In typical Tenenbaum fashion, rather than face intense and negative media attention on the bungled decision in which the agency knowingly effectively banned hands-on science education in the United States (see The New York Times and Associated Press on this issue), announced several high profile recalls and a scary "warning" about popular but apparently deadly infant products to distract the media and possibly you, too.
The four recalls and the warning are each prominently displayed on the CPSC website. Each was announced by press release so as to garner maximum attention. The new definition of "Children's Products" was not announced, although there are three Commissioner's Statements currently up on the website (Adler, Nord and Northup; Northup has also written a blogpost on the topic). The draft of the new rule is nowhere to be found on the CPSC website. There was no press release for the decision and no reference to the decision on the website other than the buried statements of the (warring) Commissioners. Hmmm.
Probably just a little oversight, right Scott??? More on this later.
The five matters released to distract you were:
a. A warning to stop using Infant positioners in cribs. Twelve babies died in 13 years.
b. Fisher-Price recall of 2.925 million inflatables for choking hazard. Sold over NINE YEARS, 14 small parts found in kids' mouths, three kids were "beginning to choke", no injuries.
c. Fisher-Price recall of 1.075 million high chairs for laceration risk. Sold over NINE YEARS, seven injuries requiring stitches and one "tooth injury".
d. Fisher-Price recall of 120,000 "Wheelies" for choking hazard. Each set includes four cars, so the universe of affected "Wheelies" is actually 480,000. Two broken toys discovered among the half million out in the marketplace (wheels fell off). No injuries.
e. Fisher-Price recall of 7.15 million Children's Tricycles for risk of "serious injury". Sold over FOURTEEN YEARS, ten injuries with six requiring medical attention (cuts).
Interestingly, when these recalls were brought to my attention this morning, the CPSC website simply listed the four Fisher-Price recalls as it normally does for recalls. However, by midday the marketing of the "crisis" had begun with a screaming headline in large print on the home page reading "Fisher-Price Recalls More than 10 Million Products". No doubt the presentation was changed as a public service (these products are sooooo dangerous) . . . . The link under the headline leads to a blogpost about the four "grisly" recalls noting the following "information":
"Fisher-Price did the right thing in agreeing to provide consumers with free remedies for these products. But all companies must do better. They must give more attention to building safety into their products. They must work to ensure that they are adhering to safety standards. And if any company finds itself with a defective product or one that is causing injuries, it must report the problem to CPSC immediately. Meanwhile, as moms, dads and caregivers, you, too, have a role. We thank the dozens of you who reported these incidents. Thanks to you, CPSC was able to investigate, work with Fisher-Price on a remedy and recall these products. If a toy breaks in your child’s hands or if your child suffers an injury from a product, tell us so that we can investigate. And if you own one of these recalled products, stop using it and contact Fisher-Price for free repair kits and replacement products." [Emphasis added]
Is this about Fisher-Price (Mattel) or about you and me? Did we do something wrong? Apparently we must have. We were spanked in this blogpost. Was it a "teachable moment" for you? Was it as good for you as it was for me?
There is so much more to say about this:
1. I find it shocking that the CPSC would so shamelessly try to cover its tracks on the approval of the final "Children's Product" definition. It's not only an embarrassment to the agency, but it's an insult to your intelligence. How this reflects the agency's view of the media, I will leave it to you to divine. It ain't a compliment.
2. Inez Tenenbaum went on TV today to stoke fear of toys. She did this on what is essentially the kick-off day for the Xmas toy season, September 30. Yes, our government sent its top safety official on national TV to scare the crap out of consumers and to warn them not to trust the companies making toys right as they were going out to the store to buy Xmas presents. This is a Barack Obama stimulus plan in action! Thanks for ALL the help, guys. Doin' the Lord's work every day . . . .
Here are a few quotes from Tenenbaum's ABC News interview:
ABC: "It's a major recall involving four different products."
ABC: [Re High Chairs] "The problem with the high chair, I understand, is these pegs. What's the problem there?"
Tenenbaum: "There pegs stick out and children have fallen on these pegs. Several have been injured and seven have required stitches."
[Tenenbaum smirks as she neglects to advise that the seven injuries requiring stitches took place over NINE YEARS and were all minor injuries.]
ABC: [Re Trikes] “The hazard is a fake key that protrudes from the bike frame.”
Tenenbaum: “These tricycles have this key which sticks up and little girls have jumped on this key and have had serious cuts.”
ABC: “Serious injuries.”
Tenenbaum: “Serious injuries.”
[Another minor omission - Tenenbaum neglects to mention that the six injuries requiring medical attention affected six children among more than seven million users, took place over 14 years and involved toddlers that were supposed to be under parental supervision. Do you think she was helpful enough to the ambitious reporter who wanted a scary story? At least she took the hint and characterized the injuries as "serious injuries".]
. . . .
ABC: "There's a message in this for all manufacturers."
Tenenbaum: "Manufacturers need to build safety into the product from the very beginning so that we don't have to recall on the back end." [Emphasis added]
[This is my Xmas gift from Tenenbaum. Mattel is the cause of this, and it's Mattel that screwed up if ANYONE screwed up. Still, Ms. Tenenbaum can't miss the opportunity to use TV to tell MY customers to not trust ME. Thanks so much. And this Administration is MYSTIFIED about why we can't get our job market going again. I'm stumped, too. . . .]
ABC: "In a statement this morning, Fisher-Price said it wanted to reassure parents that its products are 'overwhelmingly safe'. But if you have any of THESE products, you SHOULD call the company. They will offer a fix for some of them . . . others will be replaced outright." [Emphasis added]
[Lest anyone mistake this for yet another idiotic and reactive series of recalls, ABC tries to portray Mattel as untrustworthy with the quote about the overwhelming safety of the 11 million recalled toys . . . then tells you to get them out of your house pronto.]
3. The Wall Street Journal was able to put a happy face on this sorry episode. Mattel's 2010 earnings will only shrink by a penny a share because of the massive recalls. Anyone want to organize a telethon to help out a buddy in distress? How will Mattel make up that penny? Oh, the horror of it. . . .
4. I would be remiss if I didn't remind you that Mattel has succeeded in certifying about ten of its corporate labs to test its products. I call on the CPSC to release the Mattel test reports behind these recalled items. I can't wait to see the first recall of a Mattel item tested in a CPSC-certified Mattel lab. You'll never know about it, because the CPSC and Mattel will move heaven and earth to keep you from finding out.
5. The recall of the Mattel "Wheelies" will be known as the original "broken toy standard" recall. Please consider the ominous nature of this development. The Mattel toy cars were reported by eager and enthusiastic consumers because they found a broken toy. The CPSC is calling for this kind of "help" so you can expect a LOT more of this in the future. To be precise, two broken toys were found in this case. No one was hurt. No allegation has been made public that any child was even possibly in danger. No disclosure was made about how the toys broke.
The CPSC apparently intervened to "investigate". These investigations often begin with a warning to the manufactuerer - you can participate in the CPSC's Fast Track Voluntary Recall program and avoid a formal investigation and possible penalty, or you can take your chances on what determination we will make months or years later. This kind "offer" is generally a short-lived one, possibly allowing only a few hours to decide. [This dirty secret is certainly true - ask around . . . or wait for the call.] The facts may be just like this one - a broken toy has been discovered (horrors), do you want to recall (today)? Mattel decided to recall in the case of the "Wheelies", based on two broken toys and perhaps on a conversation with the kind folks at the CPSC.
Do you get this one? If a consumer reports a single broken toy to the CPSC, the agency may investigate you and you may be forced to recall the item immediately. No injuries are required, just the POSSIBILITY of injury. Do you see ANY problems with that standard? Do you think the possibility of injury is the same as the certainty of injury??? Are your products indestructible? Is this a standard for recalls you are prepared to meet? And how do you plan to blunt this regulatory attack?
Having fun yet?
You heard it here first. The "broken toy" standard - that's the rule now. I'm not kidding.
For those of us idiots who persist in making children's products, these recalls are chilling, particularly in light of the decision on "Children's Products". The CPSC is busily engaged in shrinking our market through scare tactics and reactive regulation of the markets. They are also building barriers to entry that protect mass market companies and ensure the demise of small business. How many of you can withstand the cost, damage and disruption of a 11 million piece recall? None of you. This will cost Mattel ONE PENNY. Aw, poor Mattel. Who will be left to compete with them? Hasbro. And you? You're screwed. The CPSC doesn't even bother with lip service on this one anymore.
The new definition of what constitutes a " substantial product hazard" under the CPSA is now . . . everything. Anything that might possibly cause injuries is implicitly an "imminent threat" and must be recalled. There is no defense to the possibility of injury. Heaven forbid that there may have been injuries of any kind. Then you are dead. You'll find out your penalties in a few years but right now, the recalls must proceed. Doesn't matter what percentage of the items cause injury. Doesn't matter how many years it took to accumulate the injuries. Doesn't matter if the consumer was at fault or if there was dereliction of duty on the part of adults. The company is always at fault.
We are aiming for a Utopian society now, guys. Do you doubt this? Read this article carefully from the top a second time. The message is clear: Manufacturers, get out of Dodge, unless you are Mattel.
RECALL THE CPSC! This madness will kill us all. This is all about a mania and political leadership hired to foment this change in approach. There is little reason to believe these people will change - it's time to start over.