At a recent product safety conference, Ann Marie Buerkle, Acting Chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), announced CPSC’s priorities for 2019. These include technology—both for consumers and within the agency—as well as window coverings and furniture tipover. Buerkle surprised the audience with a stern warning that any clothing storage not complying with ASTM’s F2057-17 standard will be deemed to have a defect that could pose a substantial product hazard.
Buerkle’s Address at the Annual ICPHSO Meeting
Buerkle addressed the annual meeting of the International Consumer Product Health & Safety Organization (ICPHSO), a nonprofit organization that brings together diverse stakeholders. Attendees included manufacturers, retailers, standards organizations, service providers, government agencies, and consumer advocates. This year, the meeting took place in Washington, D.C., to facilitate attendance by regulators, particularly on the day known as “CPSC Day.” Fittingly, CPSC Day opened with Buerkle’s address outlining CPSC’s priorities.
Buerkle opened with a topic at the top of everyone’s minds—the Internet of Things (IoT). CPSC recognizes that IoT is here to stay. Although the agency recognizes the urgency of moving quickly in this area to keep up with technology, CPSC appears to be still evaluating possible IoT policy initiatives. Buerkle reminded the audience about CPSC’s past activity in this space, including its January 2017 report, “Potential Hazards Associated with Emerging and Future Technologies,” and its May 2018 hearings on this topic. She also previewed processes CPSC plans to put in place to address emerging technologies, such as reassigning staff to dedicate their efforts solely on IoT, creating an interagency working group, coordinating with the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence on IoT and Home Safety, and collaborating with voluntary standards organizations.
Technology at CPSC
In addition to addressing technology advances outside the agency, Buerkle announced some technology upgrades within the agency. She spoke of the recall app that CPSC recently rolled out. She proudly congratulated the developers of CPSC’s regulatory robot 2.0, which can help assess the regulatory framework that applies to a particular product. And she welcomed the coming changes to CPSC’s SaferProducts.gov website, born out of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and now due for a refresh. Though not addressed by Buerkle, other technology advances discussed at the conference included upgrades to the FOIA process; consumer product safety lawyers breathed a sigh of relief on hearing that CPSC will finally send FOIA correspondence electronically and de-duplicate the often voluminous documents responsive to FOIA requests.
Next, Buerkle turned to more traditional product safety initiatives. First, she discussed the updated ANSI window covering standard released last year, which requires stock window coverings to be cordless or have inaccessible cords.
Furniture Tipover Safety
Finally, Buerkle addressed furniture tipover safety, which she noted has been one of her top priorities as acting chair. In a surprising announcement, she told the audience that CPSC had that day sent a letter to furniture manufacturers about tipover safety. The letter stated that any clothing storage units not compliant with ASTM F2057-17 would be regarded as having a defect that could present a substantial product hazard under Section 15(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act. Though not explicit, her message was clear: even though CPSC has not gone through the formal rulemaking process, it wants noncompliant furniture products off the market, and companies that fail to report noncompliant units run the risk of swift investigation and penalties for failure to report.
Our Product Liability and Counseling attorneys provide guidance on how CPSC’s priorities have shifted over time and how those shifting priorities affect our clients and their products. We will continue to monitor and report on any notable updates from CPSC and how they might impact the consumer product safety landscape.