Product Safety: Definition & Concept

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  • 0:01 Product Safety & the…
  • 1:52 Product Recalls
  • 3:27 The Law on Product Safety
  • 4:43 Remedies
  • 6:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrea Rea

Andrea is a practicing attorney and MBA with 15 years experience in health care administration, litigation and business law.

We use dozens of products every day. With so many products in our daily lives, how do we know which ones are potentially dangerous? Learn about the laws, organizations and remedies that exist to ensure the safety of consumer products.

Product Safety & the Commission

Did you know that injuries and other problems from consumer products cost the U.S. over $900 billion each year? That figure would be even higher without efforts to promote product safety. Product safety is a term used to describe policies designed to protect people from risks associated with thousands of consumer products they buy and use every day.

There are a number of laws at the state and federal levels intended to protect buyers from unsafe consumer goods or potentially harmful elements found in many common products. Perhaps the most important of these laws is the federal Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA). The law was enacted by Congress in 1972. It established an independent regulatory agency of the federal government known as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (Commission).

The Commission works to ensure the safety of consumer products, especially those that pose a risk of fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard. Products that may pose a danger to children are also a high priority. The Commission has jurisdiction over thousands of household products, such as power tools, cribs, toys, appliances and cigarette lighters.

Federal law authorizes the Commission to develop safety standards, enforce compliance, and to ban unsafe products under certain circumstances. The Commission investigates complaints from consumers concerning unsafe products, products that may be defective or products that violate product safety standards. Product safety standards are rules that relate to the design and manufacture of consumer goods to protect users from an unreasonable risk of harm.

Product Recalls

Perhaps the most well-known enforcement activity with respect to product safety is the product recall. You may have seen news of a product recall in the headlines, perhaps for a crib or an ATV. A product recall is a process to remove defective or hazardous products from the marketplace. Generally, a company will publicly announce the dangers of the product and ask customers to return the product or discard it. Typically, customers will be given either a refund or replacement, but sometimes the manufacturer will fix the problem (for example, defective parts in a motorcycle).

In 2012, the Commission was involved in almost 450 voluntary recalls of products that either violated mandatory standards or were defective and presented a substantial risk of injury to the public. If a manufacturer refuses to voluntarily recall a product, the Commission may file an administrative action seeking to require a recall. Federal law prohibits anyone from selling products subject to a publicly-announced voluntary manufacturer recall or a mandatory recall ordered by the Commission.

It's important to note that product recalls from the Commission relate to consumer products only. Other federal agencies have jurisdiction over food, medicine, cosmetics, motor vehicles, boats and environmental products. Some of these agencies employ product recalls to enforce product safety standards for their regulated industries as well.

The Law on Product Safety

So far we have focused on the CPSA, however there are a number of other consumer product safety laws. A few examples include:

  • The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act addresses lead levels in products, toy safety, third-party testing and certification, imports, ATVs, and includes civil and criminal penalties.
  • The Federal Hazardous Substances Act requires certain hazardous household products to have warning labels; for example, electronic toys, cribs, pacifiers, bicycles and children's bunk beds.
  • The Child Safety Protection Act requires warnings on items that may present a choking hazard for small children.
  • The Flammable Fabrics Act governs the manufacturing of highly flammable clothing and interior furnishings.

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