Public Database of Product Safety Complaints Coming Next Year
by Gavin Baker, 11/24/2010
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) voted today to create a public database of product safety complaints. The database, which will be located at SaferProducts.gov, is scheduled to launch in March 2011. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated the creation of such a database. A coalition of consumer and public interest groups called the vote "a major step forward in educating consumers about product safety hazards."
In 2002, thirteen-month-old Ellie Olney died when her neck became trapped between her crib's rail and changing table. Her mother Lisa describes the drive to create a product safety database:
Sure, there is the CPSC recall list, but what about the complaints lying in the "inbox" of someone's desk, waiting to be investigated? What about those products that had a few complaints but never made it to the public until it resulted in a death? It took nine months for the CPSC to release Ellie's story and the warning that went with it.
Consumers will be able to use the new database to better protect themselves — both by searching it directly as well as through tools and reporting based on the data. As Celia Wexler of the Union of Concerned Scientists explains, public access to the complaint data "will enable scientists and researchers ... to spot trends early and pro-actively."
In addition to consumer protection, today's vote also supports government accountability. By disclosing the complaints it receives, the database will help citizens assess how quickly and adequately CPSC responds to consumer risks.
The vote to approve the rule creating the database passed 3-2 on party lines, carried by the commission's Democratic majority. The Republican commissioners had backed an amendment to restrict who could file complaints, over concerns about spurious complaints. Undoubtedly, some inaccurate or unfair complaints will be filed, and users will have to sort the wheat from the chaff. But as U.S. PIRG's Ed Mierzwinski explains, this is nothing new:
We already have the right to know about car complaints, tire complaints, heart valve complaints and replacement knee complaints from public databases at other agencies. What do the makers of baby cribs, all-terrain-vehicles, toasters and other CPSC-regulated products have to hide?