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AAFA Tackling Product Safety Priorities

The organization held a seminar to address the complicated guidelines and stipulations that exist at the federal and state levels regarding product safety.

NEW YORK — Companies need to be more aware than ever of the increasingly varied and complicated guidelines and stipulations that exist at the federal and state levels regarding product safety, according to speakers at a recent seminar here by the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

This story first appeared in the June 10, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

After a company gets through the design, costing and marketing of a product, if it is found to be improperly manufactured or contains materials that could be hazardous, a range of laws and regulations could stall its way to market or create unexpected costs and potential legal action impacting the bottom line and a brand’s reputation.

Robert Adler, acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said in his keynote that the agency is taking “burden-reduction steps” to alleviate the costs and time involved in third-party testing of products, but not at the expense of protecting the “lives and limbs of the public.”

Adler noted that Congress in 2011 requested that the CPSC take action to ease the burden on businesses. One way to do that, he said, was to develop a list of products that might be exempt from mandated testing. At a recent hearing on the topic, for example, industry experts testified that ultrarigid plastics should be exempt from testing for phthalates, a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, some types of phthalates have affected the reproductive system of laboratory animals and have been red-flagged by the CPSC and states such as California for testing and regulating.

“There’s a really high bar to get our staff to make a technical determination to eliminate a product from testing, but we listened and we applied tests,” said Adler, noting that lead and other heavy metals are common targets for testing and regulation. “Sadly, we found a bunch of phthalates in those products. So, we have competing priorities — to ease the burden on business, but at the same time we have to make sure products are safe.”

In the area of product recalls, Adler said the CPSC supervises about 400 recalls a year, involving some 15,000 product categories. Adler and other speakers discussed proposed rule changes linking mandatory compliance programs to corrective action plans and utilizing the agency’s Fast Track Product Recall Program versus a mandatory recall. One key to the proposed rule is that, contrary to popular belief, recall agreements would become legally binding, as opposed to the current agreements between the agency and companies that Adler said are often “not worth the paper they are printed on.”

“I don’t view compliance programs as punishment,” he said. “I view them as a way to help sell the notion that compliance is necessary and needed to protect the public. Not every company is a good guy. The compliance program approach will be a good tool that from time to time will be needed for enforcement.”

Amy Duvall, director of regulatory and technical affairs for the American Chemistry Council, noted that a revision of the Toxic Control Substance Act of 1976 is pending in Congress, which she said was long overdue to reflect advances in science and technology, as well as today’s public expectations of vigorous government oversight. The ACC’s policy position is that the revised law should make sure chemicals are safe for intended use, that safety decisions are cost-effective and expeditious, that chemicals are prioritized to determine which substances warrant additional review and assessment, and to make safety information public while protecting intellectual property. She noted that the bill was championed by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), and when he died last year it stalled.

Louann Spirito, director of technical support softlines for SGS Consumer Testing Services, discussed what’s new in state regulations, including revisions proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown for California’s Proposition 65 law. Prop 65 requires the state to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. This list, which must be updated at least once a year, has grown to include about 800 chemicals since it was first published in 1987. It also requires businesses to notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces or that are released into the environment. This warning can be given by a variety of means, such as by labeling a consumer product, posting signs at the workplace or publishing notices in a newspaper. Once a chemical is listed, businesses have 12 months to comply with warning requirements.

Brown has now proposed that the specific chemical be listed on the warning and the standard Globally Harmonized System pictogram for toxic hazards be included, as well.