The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a US government agency whose job it is to protect consumers by recalling unsafe products from the marketplace.
After identifying a potentially unsafe consumer product, the CPSC, at its discretion, may decide to investigate and if warranted issue a recall. The manufacturer, distributors and retailers of a recalled product participate by publicizing the recall and by helping consumers dispose of or remedy affected products. Well known CPSC recalls are the Mattel Toys lead paint recall of 2007 and the lawn dart recall of 1988.
Until recently, information on a product in the recall process, but not yet recalled, was not available from the CPSC. Recent changes in the Consumer Product Safety Information Act offer a remedy: the CPSC now invites and publicizes reports from consumers about potentially unsafe products. Publicizing complaints should raise awareness of potential safety issues regarding consumer products, much like the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation does for vehicles and the FAA’s network does for aircraft.
The new CPSC complaints database is also a useful tool for investigators. Their original recalls database is already useful in identifying the cause of failure of many consumer products. The new complaints database should likewise help identify the cause of product failures, but for a greatly expanded number of products.
For example, in a recent fire origin and cause investigation, a refrigerator was the origin of the fire, but the amount of fire damage confounded a determination of cause. The CPSC complaints database had several reports of fires caused by malfunctioning relay switches in substantially similar refrigerators. The information proved useful in the claim investigation and subrogation efforts.
Fire damage in the refrigerator shown at left made cause determination difficult; CPSC complaints database reports of refrigerator relays igniting, like the one shown at right (arrow), were useful in finding the cause.