A new bill introduced in Congress this week seeks to allow federal regulatory officials to warn consumers about potentially dangerous products linked with specific injuries or health risks, removing what has been a “gag order”, which required the agency to wait on manufacturer consent before presenting safety information to the public.
The Safety Hazard and Recall Efficiency (SHARE) Information Act was introduced by U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush on January 9, which open the door for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to warn the public of known dangers associated with thousands of consumer goods before waiting for a manufacturer response. It would also increase civil penalties against companies that violate sharing requirements or continue to sell dangerous products.
The CPSC is tasked with the responsibility of overseeing and reducing the risk of injuries and deaths associated with consumer products, by developing standards with the industry and manufacturers. The agency is responsible for working with manufacturers to assess the safety of products and conduct recalls of those proven unsafe to the public. However, the CPSC’s powers are limited in regards to warning the public about known, dangerous products that have been linked to injuries or deaths.
The current law, known as the “Consumer Product Safety Act”, prohibits the agency from initiating a recall of products associated with potential dangers if the manufacturer does not agree with the safety assessment, nor is the agency allowed to alert the public of the dangers until the manufacturer agrees on when and how the news is released to the public, thus keeping citizens in the dark and vulnerable to preventable injuries or deaths for an extended period of time.
The laws were initially intended to give manufacturers the opportunity to review, evaluate and accurately respond to product safety issues, to ensure they are accurate and fair. Although this often causes a delayed warnings for the public, if the CPSC does not abides by these public information sharing rules it can be sued by the manufacturer.
The SHARE Information Act seeks to amend Section 6(b) of The Consumer Product Safety Act, by allowing the governing agency to provide consumers critical information regarding hazardous products in a timely manner, without the expressed permission from manufacturers and without the threat of facing a lawsuit from the manufacturer.
“Section 6(b) undermines an essential function of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, prohibiting them from alerting consumers to hazardous products in a timely manner. This has allowed companies to continue to line their pockets while consumers unknowingly purchase harmful products, completely oblivious to the potentially deadly consequences,” Representative Rush said in a press release. “The SHARE Information Act would reverse this remarkable injustice, protecting millions of Americans in the process.”
The legislation would also increase the civil penalties on those who violate information sharing requirements or continue to selling dangerous products.
According to Rush, the legislation has been long overdue, and the need for these changes have been highlighted recently with the continued deaths of infants in dangerous inclined sleepers. Rush says the CPSC knew of problems with inclined sleepers for nearly a decade, but could not act due to the current law.
To date, the CPSC has received 1,108 incidents, including 73 infant deaths related to infant inclined sleep products between January 2005 and June 2019. However, the first inclined sleeper recall was not issued until April 2019, when several manufacturers issued recalls of inclined sleeper products including Fisher-Price’s recall of 4.7 million Rock’n Play Sleepers and a recall of 694,000 Kids II inclined rocking sleepers. Fischer-Price subsequently released an additional inclined sleeper recall in June, impacting 71,000 inclined sleeping accessories sold with their Ultra-Lite Day & Night Play Yards.
Many critics say the potential dangers of inclined sleepers were well known by the manufacturers and the products should have been withdrawn from the market years ago, which would have prevented dozens of infant fatalities
Fischer-Price has been targeted by a number of inclined sleeper wrongful death lawsuits and also a class action lawsuit alleging the manufacturer knew or should have known about the risk of problems, yet delayed announcing a recall or warning, and knowingly allowed parents to continue purchasing life threatening sleeper devices.
To date, Consumer Reports, the Consumer Federation of America, Kids in Danger, Public Citizen, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Consumer Watchdog have all expressed support for the for Rush’s legislation.