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Monday March 14, 2016

Commission Votes on Recalls Likely to Be Rare Despite Policy Change

Nearly all CPSC-administered recalls likely still will proceed without commission votes even though the panel recently voted to assert this power in certain cases. Those would involve any case in which a death occurred (PSL, 2/29/16), but less than 1% of recent recalls would have qualified.


A review by PSL of those announced in the past 17+ months – since October 2014 – found just three involving fatalities. Only one was a new recall. It involved stair lifts by Acorn linked to two deaths in the U.K. (PSL, 7/27/15). The other two were reannouncements of recalls initially publicized in 2014 – adult portable bed rails by Bed Handles associated with three deaths (PSL, 9/28/15) and beanbag chairs by Ace Bayou connected to two deaths (PSL, 12/21/15).


Meanwhile, CPSC typically processes more than 400 corrective actions in a 12 month period. For example, its fiscal 2015 Annual Performance Report says it announced 415 recalls from October 2014 to September 2015.


Only two of the three recalls noted above were announced in that period, including the lone new recall. The two recalls represented less than 0.5% of FY2015 corrective actions, and the single new recall represented less than 0.25%.


Potentially increasing the percentage might be CPSC staff returning to use of Category A for recalls. It long has triggered votes, but the last time staff used it was in 1999. That lapse was an impetus for Commissioner Marietta Robinson to push the new policy, which removes subjective staff assessments for recalls involving deaths. Category A is an internal-only classification at CPSC, so what triggers it can be unclear. Robinson has called for resurrection (PSL, 3/7/16).


Another theoretical possibility raised by Commissioner Ann Marie Buerkle (PSL, 3/7/16) is products associated with deaths, but those fatalities not being linked to the hazard. She cited a hypothetical ladder involved in a toddlers drowning death and later recalled for unrelated sharp edges. However, that does not seem to be the intent of the change even though practice remains to be seen. She was the lone negative in the 4-1 vote to pass it.


The commission has the power to vote on whether to accept any corrective action plan, but in 1981, it delegated acceptance to agency staff to avoid delays.