Open, Accountable Government
E-Gov Spotlight: Product Safety Site Helps Protect Children, Families
by Leslie Haymon, 2/25/2014
In August 2008, six-month-old Kennedy Brotherton Jones died when her head got trapped in her bassinet. Her parents later learned that another child had died in the same way in the same model of bassinet a year earlier. That death had been reported to federal product safety authorities, but the danger had not been communicated to the public – including Kennedy’s parents. Today, a government website provides information that can help prevent future tragedies.
SaferProducts.gov allows Americans to report dangerous consumer products and to research product safety. Specifically, the site enables the public to submit and view reports about injuries and other safety problems involving consumer products. The website is well organized, easy to use, and an effective tool for consumers and manufacturers.
What is SaferProducts.gov?
On Aug. 14, 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act became law. In addition to other reforms to improve product safety, the law required the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) "to establish and maintain a publicly available, searchable database on the safety of consumer products, and other products or substances" regulated by the commission, like cribs, space heaters, and children’s toys.
Launched in 2011, SaferProducts.gov makes it easy for consumers to report unsafe consumer products to the government. Manufacturers also receive copies of the reports and have the opportunity to comment on them. The site then publishes the reports, along with any responses from manufacturers and product recall notices. Customers can search or browse the site and use the information to protect themselves and their families from products that may injure or harm them.
Using the Site
The SaferProducts.gov homepage makes reporting an incident simple and intuitive. A series of menus guides a person who has observed a product safety concern to identify the type of product, explain the problem, and indicate when an incident occurred and who was harmed. Each step is clear and straightforward.
Searching for reports of product hazards is also easy. Visitors can search by keyword or browse by product type, company, brand, or model. Consumers can narrow their results by specifying a date range or by narrowing the results to product recalls or reported problems. From there, users can review the recalls and reports and get information about how to return products that have been recalled.
For example, a new parent might visit the site to report an incident involving a recently purchased stroller that endangered or hurt his or her child. He or she clicks on the large, green “Report an Unsafe Product” button, and the website walks the parent through the process of reporting what happened and any information about the stroller. After submitting the report, the parent can find out if other people have had problems with the same stroller or if there are complaints about other brands or types of strollers.
Overall, the site is easy to navigate. It is simple to report an unsafe product. The site guides users step by step through this process. The process uses FAQs at each step to address anticipated questions.
For consumers researching a product, each report and recall notice is laid out well with robust information, including product data, incident descriptions, manufacturer comments, and product pictures. The site provides helpful information to guide users, including tutorial videos and frequently asked questions.
When searching or browsing reports, the site provides useful filter options such as date, product, company, location where the incident occurred, and type of injury. These options are collapsible, which prevents users from being overwhelmed by too much information.
Although its primary audience is consumers, the site is also helpful to manufacturers. Reports submitted through the site provide manufacturers with early indicators of problems with their products, as well as an opportunity to explain issues directly to potential customers. After registration, businesses receive secure e-mails when a report is made about one of their products. They then have an opportunity to make comments on reports or to report that the complaint contains confidential business information.
The site could provide more useful information to orient users visiting the site for the first time. The About page could be clearer in introducing the CPSC and the overall goals of SaferProducts.gov. Additionally, more information about the site and the scope of information it contains should be centrally placed on the homepage.
SaferProducts.gov is a well-designed site that succeeds at transforming large amounts of information into an easily usable interface. The modern look and feel, coupled with the extensive user guidance, gives the site an inviting, friendly feel. However, better information about the site and what its goals are could be more prominently displayed.
Gavin Baker and Peter Pellizzari contributed to this article.