The Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced a new drive to improve communication between consumers and businesses and make the CPSC more accountable.

By mid-November, chairman Nancy H. Steorts said, the agency will begin notifying businesses whenever a consumer complains about one of their products. Currently, the commission only notifies a company after receiving several complaints, she said. The CPSC will suggest that the company respond to the complaint, but it will not force the company to do so, said Steorts. Even so, she expects most businesses will respond. "The industry has become more sophisticated," she explained. "Most corporate presidents know it is to their advantage to answer complaints quickly. They want to know when something is wrong with their product."

The agency has also changed its main toll-free hotline number to 800-638-CPSC, the idea being to make it easier for callers to remember, said Steorts. (Callers from Maryland, however, will still have to dial 800-492-8363, while residents in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico must call 1-800-638-8333.)

Steorts said the agency plans to advertise the hotline aggressively and improve training for CPSC employes to make sure that hotline callers can get answers fast. Last year, the hotline received 100,000 calls.

Steorts said she also plans to continue meetings between CPSC, industry and consumers to discuss voluntary compliance programs. "The '70's was an era of confrontation," she explained. "The '80s should be an era of cooperation."