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Monday August 22, 2016

CPSC Calls for Standards Sunshine after Second CSA Gatekeeping Action

CPSC has reached out to CSA about the organization's recent openness practices regarding Z21 standards for gas products. That is according to agency spokesman Scott Wolfson. The reiteration of CPSC's desire for standards transparency came after a second instance of CSA pushback against PSL seeking to listen to a teleconference slated to involve CPSC.


The agency's open meeting policy "should not be new information to SDOs," Wolfson said, noting it has existed for decades. CPSC, including Chairman Elliot Kaye, supports the ability of "the press or any stakeholder" to observe agency-attended meetings, he stressed.


Wolfson also said that agency staff "will continue to act appropriately" in response to organizations' "failure to properly recognize there is a right for other stakeholders to be observers." If meetings fail CPSC's openness expectations, staffers must decline to attend or back out. Usually, however, organizations reverse meeting closures once they understand that agency staffers would need to forgo attending.


The policy, set in the 1970s, does not directly dictate how organizations like CSA conduct meetings, but it does forbid CPSC participation in closed "substantial interest" sessions except in some situations like proprietary discussions.


Wolfson said that standards-makers should see the "value of having CPSC at the table." In response to a PSL question about workarounds, he agreed that CPSC can and does communicate with SDOs via letters. However, he emphasized that this approach is neither ideal nor favored. He pointed out that written exchanges end up posted on the agency's website to ensure that the public and press can see them.


Earlier in August, PSL was blocked from listening to a CSA teleconference on carbon monoxide sensors in gas appliances (PSL, 8/1/16), prompting a CPSCer to back out.


In the new occurrence, the session would have involved smart-enabled gas grills. PSL previously had been welcome without question or hassle to listen to the relevant panel's discussions, most recently a late July session (PSL, 8/1/16).


However, in response to a query about an unanswered request to confirm call-in information, CSA Program Manager, Fuels and Appliances Josip Novkovic, echoed a challenge he made to PSL for the earlier session: "[O]utside parties need to demonstrate technical expertise on the subject matter and explain how they will contribute to the [working group] assignment. Please provide the reason for your participation so we may further consider your request."


In both instances, PSL declined to offer such information to avoid setting a precedent of agreeing that it should justify its presence at meetings that CPSC plans to attend.


A CPSC staffer again had to tell CSA he would be unable to attend a veiled meeting, but he was investigating a possibility of it being open. PSL never learned the outcome as the session was canceled without explanation just hours before it was to occur. A third CSA session – set for August 15 and about automatic electrical controls for household gas appliances – also was canceled before PSL heard back about the call-in information, but there was no pushback.


The two recent gatekeeping barriers to PSL represent a sudden change in its experience of CSA practice. Although its reporters long have been unwelcome at the organization's sessions about its Canada-only standards – such as for window coverings (PSL, 10/1/12) – for years, there has been no opposition placed in front meetings about ANSI-accredited Z21 gas product standards. Those are used in the U.S. and fall under CPSC jurisdiction, and CSA had cooperated with the agency's openness position.


Recent CSA meetings observed by PSL before the apparent change include another on smart grills (PSL, 7/4/16) and numerous on cooktop and range controls (PSL, 7/13/16, 3/21/16, 12/21/15). In fact, CPSC initiated the latter work via concerns it raised in a letter last year (PSL, 6/15/15), making its presence at future sessions seemingly crucial.


In reply to a question that distinguished between CSA policy and practice/precedent, Novkovic (at CSA since 2007 and in his current role since 2015) insisted the practice regarding attendees "has not changed." He explained:

"The practice of attendees involved with a working group meeting managed by CSA Group staff has not changed. Working groups are established by the overseeing Technical Committee or Technical Sub-Committee, which are convened only for a specific technical purpose with a specific assignment, and are comprised of technical experts on the subject matter. Working group members are appointed by the oversight Committee and once established, by the CSA Group Project Manager in conjunction with the Working Group Chair or the Technical Committee/Technical Sub-Committee to which it reports. Working groups are comprised of those possessing a knowledge of the subject matter and are able to contribute to identifying a solution, which may include discussions on proprietary information. Working groups are comprised of those possessing a knowledge of the subject matter and are able to contribute to identifying a solution, which may include discussions on proprietary information. Working group meetings are designed to brainstorm ideas, identify potential solutions to address the issue at hand, and agree on a proposal to be submitted to the oversight Committee."

CSA has not claimed proprietary worry in specific challenges to PSL presence. Indeed, for the August 3 session, the CPSC staffer who backed out explicitly mentioned the proprietary-discussion exemption, but CSA did not suggest to PSL that was the reason for shuttering the meeting.


Novkovic's answers also suggested that observer vetting can occur throughout the entire CSA process: "A similar approach is applied to non-members desiring to attend Technical Committee and Technical Sub-Committee meetings. This is common practice applied by many SDO’s, including ISO." In fact, there are no such challenges from ASTM, UL, and most other SDOs that work with CPSC. If entry screening now will be CSA's practice with U.S. standards going forward, CPSC's ability to participate will be hobbled.


Although not in response to CSA's potential start-to-finish rope line, CPSC's Wolfson did tell PSL that agency staff will continue to assess attendance meeting-by-meeting.


In reply to a question on how CSA can assure companies that its standards will satisfy CPSC if agency staffers cannot attend related meetings, Novkovic wrote only, "This was a meeting of a working group. Our accredited standards development process has not changed." PSL emphasized that the question involved CPSC satisfaction as possibly different from developers' confidence of sufficient safety.


Novkovic gave identical responses to two questions. One involved the meaning of "technical expertise" and the other whether decades of experience reporting on standards development news might theoretically suffice regardless of "technical expertise" and intent to "contribute." He wrote, "Technical expertise refers to those that have a high level of knowledge and skill on the particular matter being addressed." PSL emphasized that the latter question was not meant as acquiescence to CSA's gatekeeping but was hypothetical.


CPSC rules at 16 CFR 1012 define substantial interest matters as those "that pertain in whole or in part to any issue that is likely to be the subject of a regulatory or policy decision by the Commission."