Product Liability

CPSC’s product-safety database survives budget cuts, goes online

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s new public database of safety information, part of the website, offers American consumers for the first time ever a world of valuable safety information at their fingertips. The database went online earlier March 11, but its future appeared bleak when budgets battles raging on Capitol Hill threatened to take the website down before it had a chance to prove its worth. Fortunately, the database was taken off the chopping block and the project remains safe for now.

Developed at a cost of $3 million, this new database offers American consumers an easier way to look up safety information on thousands of consumer products, and also facilitates filing reports and complaints about potentially dangerous products to the CPSC.

However, in an increasingly polarized political environment, measures perceived as pro-consumer are almost by default criticized as anti-business, and the new product-safety database was no exception. Those who opposed it said the data could be filled with false and inaccurate claims that would hurt U.S. businesses, increase costs for consumers, and drive jobs overseas. The CPSC and others who support the database, which will not include information or comments about quality and reliability, say that it safeguards against abuse and slander and it allows manufacturers to publicly address safety complaints.

A database that contains safety information on thousands of consumer products is long overdue. Consumers wondering about the safety of a vehicle they own or are interested in buying, a brand of tires or children’s car seats can find a lot of valuable safety information on the website, a database maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Likewise, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a publicly accessible database of safety information pertaining to prescription drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, food, pet products, and other items under its jurisdiction.

Ironically, however, the CPSC, whose job is to protect American consumers from thousands upon thousands of dangerous goods, has never had such a database … until now.

Knowledge is power, and empowering consumers to make educated decisions about the products they buy, especially when it comes to matters of safety, could conceivably frighten some companies. In the end, the only businesses that are truly threatened by this new product-safety database are those that turn out dangerous and defective products. But the best step a company with a history of safety-related problems can do to protect itself is to improve its products, not try to hide information from the people who buy them.