Wednesday June 06, 2012
Reports of Harm – Enough to Make Safer ProductsBy Nancy Cowles and Rachel Weintraub
A response from Nancy Cowles, Executive Director of Kids In Danger and Rachel Weintraub, Director of Product Safety and Senior Counsel at Consumer Federation of America.
The May 27, 2012 article by Lee Bishop and Steve McGonegal, titled How Much “Harm” is Reported in Safer Products Database “Reports of Harm”? seems to assume that only after a person is injured seriously enough to require medical treatment should any of us be concerned about potentially dangerous products. That attitude might explain how many dangerous products end up in consumer use – only to be recalled after – often many – reports of harm.
First, we hope the authors examined CPSC data more carefully than they did the previous studies they mentioned in the article. For example, they refer to the “CU report”* – meaning the report conducted by Consumer Federation of America and Kids in Danger, not Consumers Union, although they did join in the press release marking the anniversary – a significant detail that should not have been overlooked.
Second, the authors do not seem familiar with the statutory language that created the database. Section 212 of the CPSIA states that the type of information that consumers and other public health professionals can report include, “reports of harm relating to the use of consumer products,”1 The statutory language did not require that only injuries or deaths could be reported, but rather “reports of harm,” which is broader than “injuries.” The CPSIA makes certain that this is clarified by defining what “harm” means. The CPSIA defines harm as the term is used in the database as meaning, “‘(1) injury, illness, or death’; or ‘(2) risk of injury, illness, or death, as determined by the Commission.’” Thus, their interpretation is a mistake that contradicts the plain language of the statute.
The data the authors provide is useful and should be analyzed, and as they point out, used in conjunction with NEISS emergency room data and other sources of information to paint a complete picture. As a self-reporting mechanism, the Saferproducts.gov database was never intended to be a statistically accurate picture of injuries overall, but to provide information and insight on particular products, types of products or types of injuries.
But their conclusion that because not every report entails a trip to the ER, “the number of reports does not provide a reliable indicator of the injury risk associated with purchase and use of specific consumer products or categories of products” is false.
1 Section 212 of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, Public Law 110-314, 122 Stat. 3016 (August 14, 2008).
* PSL note: The article elsewhere referred to it as the “Consumer Federation of America/Kids in Danger/Consumers Union (CFA/KID/CU) report.”