In just nine days, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) officially launches its Publicly Available Consumer Product Safety Information Database on SaferProducts.gov. The database, which was mandated by Congress as part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvements Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-314), has been the subject of much debate since its inception, and even more so as the March 11 launch looms imminent.
The well-intentioned purpose of the database is to provide consumers with greater information about product safety hazards, encouraging them to submit reports of harm (ROH) on any injury, illness or death (or risk of same) encountered with the use of a particular product and allowing them to search products and read report summaries when considering purchase decisions. But despite CPSC's efforts in building the database, serious concerns remain about potential abuse/misuse and the overall integrity of the database. Will the information contained in the ROH and subsequent comments provide a high degree of assurance of accuracy? Could individuals with agendas "spam" the database with reports of harm (all that is required for publication is for a submitter – which can be virtually anyone – to meet the minimum information requirements), resulting in the over-reporting of certain potential concerns and under-reporting of others? Will CPSC be able to review manufacturers' claims of potential confidential business information or materially inaccurate information contained in ROHs in a timely manner (i.e., before the report is published in the database)? Will the Business Portal serve to ensure that the appropriate individual in a company receives notice of the ROH identifying a product his/her company manufactures, imports, or privately labels? Will consumers find the database easy to use?
Congress (or, at least the House of Representatives) clearly is concerned that in its soon-to-be-released form, the database could create more headaches than benefits. Freshman Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) offered an amendment to the long-term Continuing Resolution (HR 1) passed by the House in February to deny funding to CPSC to implement the database at this time. The amendment passed by a vote of 234-187. It is unclear whether it will ultimately be retained in the long-term CR the House and Senate will continue to hash out over the next two weeks.
The mere existence of such a database isn't necessarily a bad thing; after all, CPSC already has the ability to collect such information. But extreme care must be exercised to ensure the database is accurate and usable.