Sean Oberle took issue with my analysis of the Summer Infant recall of baby monitors tonight in an essay in the Product Safety Letter. In my recent blogposts, I noted that sale of the Summer Infant baby monitors can't be resold without their kit of the label, the new instructions and the clips. True fact. As a practical matter, this is essentially a ban of resale of this item because in the REAL WORLD, resale shops do not have the time to lavish on researching this kind of nonsense.
Does ANYONE think a resale shop is going to verify that a baby monitor has the right sticker on it? What planet are you from? They WILL, however, note that this item has been recalled. In the mist of time, the reason WHY it was recalled will be long forgotten. Again, who has the time to figure all this out? Maybe Sean Oberle and Scott Wolfson, but the rest of us won't do it.
That the items can somehow be resold legally is simply a technicality. Ask any resale shop.
As for my "confusion" between the "reason" for the recall and the "remedy", I believe I was not confused at all. For one thing, the supposed "remedy" is no remedy at all. A warning label about the cord is superfluous by any definition and absurdly ineffective to prevent further harm. The "reason" for the recall has nothing to do with a hazard related to this item. It may relate to a proactive step recommended by the company's lawyers, given the likelihood that they have been sued over the two unfortunate accidents. I stand by my position that this hazard falls into the category of parental supervision, not a product "defect". I may not be alone in this view, to judge by the hundreds of comments on this MSNBC article.
More fantastic is Mr. Oberle's characterization of the recall and how "voluntary" it was. I have no person knowledge of this situation, so perhaps he is right. Then again . . . rumors of CPSC coercion on this kind of thing are rampant. Threats of penalties, preemptive press releases and possible litigation have been rumored in many cases. Ms. Tenenbaum is not above sabor rattling in speeches, either. Think of last year's ICPHSO keynote speech, for example. We have received at least one threat from the CPSC which I have thusfar restrained myself from discussing in this space. It's very real. "Voluntary" is in the eyes of the beholder.
I must also say that I don't see the benefit that the CPSC brings to this party IF the recall was "voluntary". If this was REALLY the company's idea, why does the CPSC have to sign off on it? Why is the CPSC in a better position to figure out how to best resolve this informational issue? After all, Summer Infant had 1.7 million reasons to get this right (plus an unknown number of lawsuits). I don't buy the idea promoted by Mr. Wolfson in the Chicago Tribune's hyperbolic article on pool drains: "CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson declined to comment on AquaStar's actions. In general, though, he said: 'A company is not allowed to take unilateral action that is intended to fix a safety problem with their product without reporting and coordinating that action with the CPSC.'" Scott, where does it say that, precisely?
Even more to the point, why is this a "recall" anyhow? The CPSC could have avoided the entire issue by labeling this event an "alert". There would be no implications for resale shops had they chosen that path. Was it REALLY the company's idea to RECALL these items? Were they offered an "alert" but refused? Oh, sure.
At some point, I hope the CPSC will take more responsibility for its actions, rather than justify whatever they choose to do. Mr. Wolfson may have an answer for everything but that doesn't make the agency's actions right, fair or appropriate. The many comments on the MSNBC article indicate that no one is being fooled. Recall upon recall upon recall is alienating the public, NOT making them feel safer.
Come on, Sean, get real. The CPSC can raise its game, and as a member of the Fourth Estate, you can push them in that direction. I am not the enemy here.