I am at ICPHSO for the next couple days, reporting from this safety convention "live" for the third year in a row.
As in the past, I am working "live" and off my notes, so take it for what it's worth. I may make some mistakes (which I regret), but heck, this is a blog. According to my critics, you shouldn't believe half of what I say anyhow . . . .
The Opening Session today featured Ken Hinson, the Executive Director of the CPSC. Ken is a relatively new addition to the senior staff of the agency.
Mr. Hinson argues that employment at the CPSC is directly correlated to safety. Reported incidents are skyrocketing, but investigations are declining. This statistic does not capture what the agency is DOING as a result of those investigations, notably.
The agency is "extremely excited" about the product database. One wonders what they are so "extremely excited" about, given the extensive testimony about the problems with the database. Wayne Morris of AHAM testified in Congress last week that when erroneous information is posted, as it certainly will be, there is NOTHING that can be done to remove it from the Internet. He compared the database to a "blog". A blog! I testified in the same Congressional hearing that the effect of the database will be to encourage consumers to NOT communicate directly with us about product issues but instead to post to the database, and since the CPSC restricts our access to this data, it is likely that the database will INCREASE safety risks.
Lots to be "extremely excited" about, indeed!
The CPSC Strategic Plan is now online. I requested to be interviewed as part of the process of developing the Strategic Plan, as I was invited to do, but somehow they failed to call. Hmmm.
- Leadership in Safety
- Commitment to Prevention
- Rigorous Hazard Identification
- Decisive Response
- Raising Awareness
First goal: Will create annual plans to address the most pressing merging safety hazards. Supposedly will be working closely with stakeholders, you know, like readers of this blog. Okay, not us, but somebody. I bet consumer groups might be on that list . . . .
Second goal: They want us to "build safety into consumer products". Presumably the CSPC thinks this is a new idea because with an ex post facto approach to safety, any injury means the manufacturer screwed up. We're always wrong, thus inviting the government to get involved in what we do to make things "better". As Ronald Reagan said, the most frightening sentence in the English language is "We're the government and we're here to help!"
They're going to give us proactive education on how to design our products more safely and will create incentives to encourage us. I can imagine those "incentives" might be based on penalties imposed and threats made by the agency in recent years.
Third goal: This is the scary one - they will be looking deeply for hazards, like cords on baby monitors . . . . Presumably, when they find a "hazard", well, you know what happens next. They are working on increasing their ability to obtain, analyze and act on information of "hazards".
My problem with this is that the definition of what constitutes a "hazard" has been lost. Perhaps this is a picky point, but they don't have the legislative authority to do whatever they want. They are restricted to work on SUBSTANTIAL PRODUCT HAZARD. In fact, they are limited by the law. Someone should tell them about this.
Mr. Hinson: "This is all about speed." There's a confidence builder for me - hasty judgments are always better by definition.
Fourth goal: The CPSC plans to act fast and "hold manufacturers responsible". It's all about "speed". Again, agency policy seems to be to encourage hasty judgments. Based on industry chatter, this policy does not involve dithering or considering defenses or due process. The CPSC is judge and jury, legislature and executive branch. In fact, often it is a junior and inexperienceds staffer who is judge and jury. See how you like it when you are on the receiving end.
This will be SUPER until all products are finally killed off.
Raising awareness is critical to empowering consumers, so says Mr. Hinson. I question whether empowering them to panic or make judgments based on scant, erroneous or inappropriate data is a really good idea or good public policy. The "good news" is that they have set this plan in motion, so your opinions and mine don't matter.
Fifth goal: The raising awareness goal certainly incorporates the wonderful new database. Likewise, Neal Cohen and the small business liaison office is part of this plan.
Btw, raising awareness is a really good goal for the agency but if it doesn't know what a hazard is, or have good processes to encourage trust among manufacturers, they can do a lot of damage with their clean heart and good intentions. Sucking up to left wing politicians and consumer groups does not necessarily produce good public policy. The agency might consider taking more seriously criticism of its activities and actually taking on board suggestions by knowledgeable stakeholders, including ex-CPSC staff.