A headline in Thursday's Business section incorrectly said that the Consumer Product Safety Commission was set to endorse voluntary safety standards established for products by the industries that produce them. The agency is only considering such a step.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission, in opposition to consumer groups, most of the major industries it regulates, some federal agencies and its own staff, is considering endorsing voluntary safety standards that are set by industry for products ranging from chain saws to children's toys.
A CPSC vote on endorsing, or at least formally recognizing, such standards is tentatively set for next week.
The CPSC currently does not officially endorse or recognize voluntary standards for a consumer product. Rather, if voluntary safety standards for a product are set by industry, the commission is required by law to defer to the voluntary standards as long as they effectively address the risk of injury and there is substantial voluntary compliance with the standard, a commission source said.
When the agency finds safety problems that are not being addressed voluntarily, it can impose mandatory regulations.
The CPSC plan to endorse voluntary standards was opened for public comment last summer, and Douglas L. Noble of the CPSC program management office said nearly 40 responses were received, citing a variety of potential problems ranging from anti-competitive effects on industry to legal liability.
"One potential ill effect is the impact on injured victims in lawsuits," said CPSC Commissioner Stuart M. Statler. "There would be a turning away on the part of courts and juries in supplying adequate compensation to victims even if there was an injury because evidence would be introduced at trial that the defective product had complied with a government-approved standard."
Opponents of the voluntary standard proposal also argue that the commission shouldn't endorse a standard that it doesn't have the resources to monitor.
"It is not appropriate for an agency with limited resources to endorse a standard it can't enforce," said R. David Pittle, former acting chairman of the CPSC, who is the technical director of The Consumers Union in New York. "Who is there to check to see if these industries comply?"
Statler added that a "CPSC seal of approval" on products would mislead the public. They would be "befuddled" as to what the endorsement means, Statler said, citing comments from the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs. "The public would be unable to differentiate between a commission recognition of a standard and a legal endorsement."
The Federal Trade Commission and the major industry groups that are regulated by the CPSC, such as The Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association Inc., opposed the voluntary standard proposal in their responses. Some simply oppose any government review of voluntary industry standards. Others said the agency's support of a particular voluntary standard could have anti-competitive effects.
Statler pointed out that if the agency endorsed a safety standard for electric heaters, it might give that industry an advantage over makers of heaters that burn oil, gas, coal or wood, even though the only reason they had no endorsement was because the commission had not gotten around to them yet.
"We need to junk this proposal" and find another method to encourage industry to pursue product safety," he said.
However, some industry groups, including The Wool Bureau Inc., the American Furniture Manufacturers Association and the National Solid Wastes Management Association, support the voluntary standards plan, arguing that federal recognition of voluntary safety standards would upgrade product safety.