Small Toy Manufacturers Still Crying HELP with CPSIA - TIA to the Rescue?

May 12, 2009

It has been more than a year since the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act ("CPSIA") passed Congress, and most small businesses still look at the new regulations like they are written in code.  In fact, too many small businesses have given up altogether.  Many manufacturers of toys and other children's products have decided to continue with business as usual, finding that the time, expense, and headache associated with interpreting the CPSIA are not worth it.  While the CPSIA is admittedly vague, ambiguous, and frustrating, throwing in the towel is a dangerous proposition.  The penalties for noncompliance are so harsh that many small businesses would be unable to financially survive a serious citation.

Recently, the Toy Industry Association, Inc. (“TIA”) has attempted to remove some of the doom and gloom associated with CPSIA compliance. On May 12, 2009, the TIA announced eleven members of an Oversight Council charged with ensuring that “toys entering the U.S. market comply with all relevant safety standards and regulations.”[1] More specifically, the Council, which is truly comprised of an all-star cast, including a former CPSC Commissioner, is responsible for monitoring the development, implementation, and effectiveness of the Toy Safety Certification Program (“TSCP”),[2] which was designed by the TIA to increase consumer confidence in toys sold in the U.S. The TSCP should be finalized and in use by the fall of this year.

At first blush, many toy manufacturers may look at the Council and the TSCP as the implementation of an additional oversight committee responsible for monitoring their every move. As if the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”), each State’s Attorney General, and consumer groups – all of which can take action to enforce provisions of the CPSIA – weren’t enough, now there’s an Oversight Council too? Not so fast. What toy manufacturers need to remember is that the TIA works for them. Since 1916, this non-profit group has worked to facilitate the “growth and health of the toy industry,” which is language that comes straight from the organization’s mission-statement. The TIA is the primary lobbying source for toy manufacturers and retailers across the country and, by all accounts, they are accessible to organizations of all sizes.

Thus, believe it or not, the TSCP and its Council were implemented by the TIA as a way of assisting toy manufacturers, not hampering their efforts in an already difficult economic climate. The objective is “to provide a sustainable system to enhance both the reality and the public’s confidence that toys sold in the U.S. market are safe.”[3] In other words, the TIA recognizes that public perception is everything, and that a program specifically tailored toward putting the public’s mind at ease will lead to drastically increased sales.

The program applies to all toys that are produced for sale in the U.S. If the manufacturer follows the program’s requirements, which are being created in cooperation with the American National Standards Institute (“ANSI”), its product or packaging will feature a “toy safety” stamp of approval. The program’s basic requirements, which will all be verified by an accredited certification body at the direction of the Council, are three-fold:

Toys that receive the “toy safety” stamp will be featured on a website accessible to consumers – once again, with an eye on increasing confidence in toys sold domestically, despite the fact they may be manufactured in a foreign country.

Still not convinced? Think about it this way, the TIA sympathizes with the numerous small toy manufacturers that do not have the resources to keep up with the daily struggle of interpreting the CPSC. The TIA recognizes that the CPSIA still needs work and that, despite the best efforts by the CPSC (which is also working to right itself internally), it could be years before all of the Act’s directives are finally sorted out and fully understood. Thus, the TIA has stepped in with what should ultimately be an easily understood and much simpler plan geared toward product safety. A willingness to follow the TSCP demonstrates a good faith effort to design, manufacture, and distribute safe toys, even if the CPSIA remains a cryptic treasure map.

Sure, toy manufactures still need to understand the new lead standards and track the ongoing struggle to understand phthalate regulations, but the TSCP and its Council is designed to work with manufacturers to make sure they are taking the steps necessary to comply. The Council, which includes well-respected product safety experts, engineers, and government and consumer representatives, is there to assist, not to punish or penalize.

As for the effectiveness of the program – well, our country’s founding fathers didn’t get it right the first time either, but it was a step in the right direction. The same can probably be said for the TSCP. Where it helps, however, is with perception – not only with consumers, but also with the CPSC, who is charged with enforcing the CPSIA’s requirements. The CPSC is not blind to the difficulties presented by the CPSIA. Thus, the implementation of internal policies geared towards product safety (every toy manufacturer should have this), as well as a concerted effort to follow the TSCP, will go a long way should a manufacturer be subject to a claim or investigation.

For more information on the TSCP, visit www.toycertification.org. Additionally, small toy manufacturers should also review the CPSC’s “Guide to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) for Small Businesses, Resellers, Crafters and Charities,” which is available at www.cpsc.gov.


[1] Courtesy of the TIA website, http://tia.informz.net/tia/archives/archive_318779.html (last viewed Aug. 19, 2009).

[2] The most recent draft of the TSCP, dated June 5, 2009, is accessible on the TIA’s website, http://www.toycertification.org/pdf/tscp-programsummary.pdf (last viewed Aug. 19, 2009).

[3] Courtesy of the TIA website, http://www.toycertification.org/prog-sum.html (last viewed Aug. 19, 2009).

Practices

Top