The "Safer Products" Database: Reports of Harm Made Public on March 11, 2011
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Publicly Available Consumer Product Safety Information Database (the "Database") (found at www.saferproducts.gov) will be launched officially on March 11, 2011. Mandated by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (the "Act"), the Database includes a new mechanism for consumers to report harm, or merely a risk of harm, involving consumer products (excluding food and drugs). The Database makes qualified reports of harm available to the public, in an online, searchable format. Prior to publication of any report, the Commission will allow manufacturers to comment and/or challenge reports containing materially inaccurate or confidential information. In certain cases, manufacturers' comments may be published as well. Previously, reports of harm and responsive comments were not available to the public unless published in a Commission report or obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Database is currently in "soft-launch" i.e., the Commission and stakeholders are testing the new reporting and response system with the knowledge that until March 11, 2011, nothing will be made publicly available in the Database. Indeed, consumer reports are being accepted through the website and any report meeting minimum requirements for publication are transmitted to registered manufacturers, importers and private labelers. These companies are able to provide comments online and challenge reports as containing inaccurate or confidential information.
This practice time is valuable, particularly because the faster a company is able to respond to a negative consumer report, the better. Companies should use the soft-launch to establish protocols for dealing with reports of harm involving their products, including designating persons within the company to be notified of reports via email and identifying the single account holder who is allowed to submit comments. The Act does not require that reports be based on first-hand knowledge or that they be made within a certain time following the alleged harm. Thus, companies should carefully review all reports in which they are named and consider monitoring reports in the Database by industry -- where no manufacturer is named. Perhaps most importantly, companies should develop procedures for responding to reports that contain materially inaccurate or confidential information. The Act requires that any request to remove information from a report be "timely" and accompanied by a certification to defend the Commission if the removal is later challenged. Thus, companies must be prepared to act quickly and accurately in responding to reports of harm. Practice and preparation during soft-launch will help in that endeavor.
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