The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is an independent federal regulatory agency that works to save lives and keep families safe by reducing the risk of injuries and deaths caused by unsafe consumer products. In order to achieve those goals, the CPSC develops voluntary standards for industry; issues and enforces mandatory standards or bans consumer products if no reasonable standard would adequately protect the public; facilitates the recall of products or arranges for their repair; conducts research on possible product hazards; and informs and educates consumers through the media, governmental units, and private organizations, and by responding to consumer inquiries.
The CPSC was created by Congress in 1972 under the Consumer Product Safety Act, which directed the CPSC to protect the public “against unreasonable risks of injuries associated with consumer products.” It began operating in 1973. The CPSC operates independently, which means that it does not report to nor is it part of any other department or agency of the federal government. The agency is headed by three commissioners who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate for staggered seven-year terms. The three commissioners set CPSC policy. The President designates one of these commissioners as the Chairperson, or chief administrator, of the CPSC. The current acting Chairperson is Hal Stratton.
The CPSC’s main offices are located in Bethesda, Maryland, and there are branch offices in New York City, Chicago, and Oakland, California, as well as about 100 investigators, compliance officers, and consumer information specialists working throughout the United States. All together, the CPSC has nearly 500 employees who are responsible for monitoring the safety of over 15,000 kinds of consumer products.
If you or a family member has been harmed by a consumer product, or if you believe a product may be unsafe, you may report that information to the CPSC. Reports can be made online at the CPSC’s website http://www.cpsc.gov/talk.html; by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), phone (800/638-2772, x650), fax (800/809-0924) or letter (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Injury Report, Washington, DC 20207).
Once the CPSC receives your report, the CPSC’s National Injury Information Clearinghouse will respond with a letter describing how the CPSC will use the information you provided, and it will request that you review the report to confirm its accuracy. If necessary, you can then make corrections to the report or provide additional information. If your complaint identifies a particular manufacturer, the CPSC will forward your complaint to that manufacturer. If you have given the CPSC permission to include your name and contact information in the report forwarded to the manufacturer, you may get a response directly from that company.
The CPSC does not, however, investigate every product complaint. Because it gets about 10,000 reports of product-related injuries and deaths every year and has a limited staff, it can investigate only a few of the complaints it receives. If it does decide to investigate the product that is the subject of your report, a CPSC investigator will contact you by phone or mail. If the investigation indicates that a recall or other action is required, that action will not be made public until the CPSC issues a news release.
Even if the CPSC does not investigate your particular complaint, the information that you and other consumers provide is a valuable resource for the CPSC. The information becomes part of the CPSC’s database, which is used to identify patterns of injuries and hazards associated with particular products. Some of the CPSC’s injury data are available on its website, or information may be requested from the National Injury Information Clearinghouse by phone (301/504-7921), fax: (301/504-0025), e-mail (email@example.com), or letter (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Clearinghouse, Washington, DC 20207). The CPSC also offers a wealth of other information, including various informative and helpful publications, all of which are available free of charge on its website. Some of these publications are offered in Spanish, or even other languages, as well English.
Some of the most important information offered by the CPSC relates to product recalls. A product is recalled if it presents a significant risk to consumers either because it may be defective or violates a mandatory CPSC standard. Once a product has been recalled, you should generally stop using it, unless the CPSC’s specific instructions relating to that product indicate otherwise. Product recalls are usually effective indefinitely; in other words, there is generally no end date to a product recall. Just because one product made by a certain manufacturer has been recalled, however, does not by itself indicate that the manufacturer’s other products are harmful. In fact, many recalls apply only to products manufactured and date-coded for specific time periods, so even the same product made at a different time may pose no risk.