The Consumer Product Safety Commission agreed today that industry should develop voluntary safety standards for its products, but then voted unanimously against endorsing such standards.
The idea of throwing the commission's support behind voluntary standards has been under study since last year, but raised more problems than anticipated. Consumer groups, many major industries that the commission regulates and the commission's staff recommended dropping the idea.
The agency's recognition of voluntary standards would have required the commission to acknowledge the existence of a particular voluntary standard for industry and, where appropriate, urge manufacturers to comply with the standard. The commission also would have been required to make consumers aware of the safety benefits provided by the standard.
CPSC Commissioner Stuart M. Statler cited a variety of problems with the plan. It would make it more difficult, for example, for injured consumers to obtain compensation through lawsuits, he said. It also would confuse consumers who see some products endorsed and not others.
He also warned of adverse effects on competition and the stifling of innovation by discouraging research to improve product safety.
Endorsing industry standards also might involve the commission in lawsuits, said CPSC Commissioner Saundra Brown Armstrong. "Our meager legal resources would be consumed in defending such suits, no matter how frivolous the allegations," Statler agreed. "We hardly need that during a time of woefully diminished resources."
Armstrong also warned that decisions on whether to support various product standards could overtax the commission staff. " . . . The commission simply lacks both the staff and the financial resources to carry out an effective program of recognizing voluntary standards," Armstrong said.
Proponents of the plan had argued that CPSC recognition of voluntary standards would encourage industry's development of more effective voluntary standards, encourage industry compliance, and promote increased acceptance of voluntary standards as a defense in product liability litigation.
While the commission voted 4 to 0 to withdraw the proposal, it instructed its staff to study other ways of encouraging industry to increase safety ideas.
The CPSC also instructed its staff to look into the possibility of having commission employes participate on industry panels developing voluntary standards and voting on those decisions in the future.
Most of the commissioners added that they they still support the idea of using voluntary standards when possible. Statler said that "just because I reject this particular proposal as flawed does not mean our search to find ways to enhance CPSC involvement in the voluntary standards area should screech to a halt."