Congress Seeks to Strengthen Regulations in Juvenile Products Industry

October 16, 2007

The fallout from several recent toy recalls by major U.S. manufacturers continues. On October 9, 2007, a series of bills geared toward intensifying regulations on the products industry passed through the U.S. House of Representatives. The four bills include (1) the Product Safety Civil Penalties Improvement Act, (2) the Danny Keysar Child Product Safety Notification Act, (3) the Children’s Gasoline Burn Prevention Act, and (4) the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. The bills are currently before the Senate for debate.

1. The Product Safety Civil Penalties Improvement Act, H.R. 2474 

Perhaps the bill that will garner most of the national headlines is H.R. 2474. The purpose of the bill is to “provide for an increased maximum civil penalty for violations under the Consumer Product Safety Act.” The bill proposes increasing the maximum civil penalty for violations of the CPSA from $1.82 million to $10 million over two years. As Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) representative Thomas Moore stated, “Perhaps some companies would be less likely to try to stall our agency by putting off reporting hazardous products if we had penalties that were more commensurate with the harm they can cause.”

The bill would certainly cause the products industry to take notice. However, many proponents of stronger legislation will ask the obvious question, “does the bill go far enough?” According to several reports, the $750,000 fine that CPSC assessed against Wal-Mart for failing to report a defect in fitness machines represented merely 1 minute, 33 seconds worth of sales. According to Janell Mayor Duncan, Senior Counsel for the nonprofit Consumers Union, “the $10 million is a start, but we would like to see the cap…eliminated all together, so that if appropriate, even higher civil limits can be assessed.”

Manufacturers need to monitor the status of H.R. 2474 closely as it could ultimately impact insurance premiums and otherwise effect companies financially. Additionally, with enough pressure from organizations like the Consumers Union, the time may come when penalty amounts are left uncertain, as suggested by Duncan.

2. The Danny Keysar Child Product Safety Notification Act, H.R. 1699

The bill that may have the most immediate impact is H.R. 1699. The purpose of the bill is to “direct the Consumer Product Safety Commission to require certain manufacturers to provide consumer product registration forms to facilitate recalls of durable infant and toddler products.” The bill would improve the recall process for 12 infant and toddler products, including cribs, high chairs, strollers, bath seats, play yards, walkers, and swings. Manufacturers would be required to provide postage-paid, privacy-protected recall registration cards to consumers. After registering the products, consumers would be notified directly if the product is recalled in the future.

Sadly, the bill is named after Danny Keysar, a 16-month-old boy who passed away as a result of a crib collapse five-years after the crib was recalled. Danny’s parents and his caregiver were unaware of the recall.

3. The Children’s Gasoline Burn Prevention Act, H.R. 814

The purpose of H.R. 814 is to “require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to issue regulations mandating child-resistant closures on all portable gasoline containers.” The bill’s focus is on protecting children by giving the CPSC the power to regulate gasoline storage containers. A recent study demonstrates that more than 1,200 children were treated for burns associated with flammable gas spills in a single year.

4. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, H.R. 1721

The purpose of H.R. 1721 is to “increase the safety of swimming pools and spas” by requiring the use of “anti-entrapment drain covers and pool and spa drainage systems” as well as by implementing programs designed to educate the public about pool and spa safety. The bill would focus on specific consumers and their use of pools and spas. The bill would require individual states to enact similar laws to enhance pool and spa safety.