By Rachel Weintraub, Consumer Federation of America
You’re probably familiar with websites like Yelp and Angie’s List, where users can review businesses, research the most popular services in their area, and avoid bad customer service experiences. Websites like these make our daily lives a bit easier, and increase the chances that we’ll have a good experience next time we go out to eat or shop.
But unlike Yelp or Angie’s list, there is an online database that contains reports of harm about a product that are reviewed before being posted. You may be surprised to find out the U.S. government maintains this website full of user reports about consumer product safety, which puts power back into the hands of consumers. SaferProducts.gov is an online database where consumers can report and research safety hazards with a wide variety of products, from stovetops to toys, power tools to strollers. This database empowers consumers to take control of their safety, while also helping regulators discover trends in unsafe products so they can be dealt with quickly.
SaferProducts.gov is one of the successful components of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which was signed into law ten years ago this summer. CPSIA expanded the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) ability to protect consumers from dangerous products while increasing public awareness of safety hazards in the home.
Giving Consumers Control
The CPSC collected consumer complaints before the passage of the CPSIA, but most were hidden from the public for long periods of time, sometimes until and only if a recall was announced. This is because the Consumer Product Safety Act – the law which created the CPSC – includes a section barring the CPSC from communicating information about a product to the public until they have essentially received permission from the manufacturer. This meant that consumers were unwittingly using products that manufacturers and the CPSC knew posed safety hazards, but which the CPSC was legally barred from warning the public about.
This changed on March 11, 2011, when the database went live. Consumers and other members of the public, such as physicians, began submitting reports about products that posed a risk of harm. The CPSC has been able to use this data to identify trends in product hazards, and then act accordingly to protect the public.
To preserve the integrity of the database, the CPSC prevents inaccuracies in several ways:
- anonymous reports are not permitted;
- only safety-related information is permitted;
- reports are only considered for publication if specific minimum fields are completed; and
- manufacturers have the opportunity to review and comment on reports.
Improving the Database
As of June 22, 2018, there were 36,544 reports in the database. While the database has grown in recent years, its rate of growth has been slowing. It is important that the CPSC continue to improve and expand the database, and keep consumers better informed about their safety.
Here are some ways the CPSC could continue to build on the success of the database’s first seven years:
- Increase awareness and use of the database by the public. Encourage consumers, healthcare professionals, and other members of the public to continue submitting reports by implementing a more user-friendly interface as well as outreach and training.
- Fold additional CPSC data sources into SaferProducts.gov. For instance, there is a field on each report in the database to link it to associated recalls, but that is not being done. Failing to do so leaves consumers in the dark about their use of a recalled product.
- Analyze the database and release reports. The CPSC could proactively prevent injuries by evaluating and publicizing trends in harm posed by products reported in the database. The CPSC could also release reports on specific emerging hazards, as well as an analysis of why the number of public reports is decreasing annually.
We hope that the CPSC continues to improve SaferProducts.gov which has been a success in its first seven years online. Consumers can now quickly and easily share information on harmful products, giving the CPSC a boost in their mission to keep the products we use every day safe.
Read more about SaferProducts.gov here.