By Brian Joseph
In the years since the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission launched SaferProducts.gov in March 2011, more than 29,000 reports of potentially dangerous products and product hazards have been filed with the searchable database.
Now, five leading consumer groups, have analyzed the data collected on the site, finding that it provides a valuable, but underutilized, resource for anyone buying products.
“SaferProducts.gov is something more consumers should know about,” said Rachel Weintraub, senior counsel for the Consumer Federation of America, which analyzed the data along with the groups Kids in Danger, Public Citizen, Consumers Union and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). “It has not gotten on most consumers’ radar screens,” she said.
The groups found that 39 percent of the reports filed on SaferProducts.gov are for products made by 10 manufacturers, including Electrolux, G.E., Whirlpool and Sears.
Their report, however, does not conclude that products made by these manufacturers are more dangerous. Rather, the majority of reports on the site are for appliances, and thus appliance manufacturers are well represented on the database.
Another reason those 10 manufacturers may be so well represented could be “their substantial market share in a broad range of products,” the report says.
According to the analysis, 11 percent of reports to SaferProducts.gov involved injuries that required medical treatment. Less than 1 percent of the reports involved a death from a product. However, more than half of the 90 fatalities reported involved children age 12 or younger, and 16 of the deaths involved all-terrain vehicles.
The report concludes that the 90 deaths are a significant undercount, since hundreds of deaths from ATVs alone are recorded each year.
SaferProducts.gov was authorized by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 in the wake of several product scandals. The site was created to mitigate commission restrictions on releasing certain kinds of information without manufacturer approval by establishing a place for consumers to talk to each other about problems they’ve encountered.
But some manufacturers opposed the site, saying it would allow consumers to post inaccurate or unfair complaints that would harm their brands, although the commission does give them a chance comment on each report before it’s published online.
“It’s still a target,” said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger, noting that in congressional budget talks the topic of taking money away from SaferProducts.gov continually comes up. Consumer advocates are also worried about the site’s future under the new Trump administration.
In a statement to FairWarning, Electrolux spokeswoman Eloise Hale said, “We take the safety of our products very seriously. If a consumer believes that their product is not working as expected, we urge them to call our consumer services group to discuss whether service is necessary.”
Said GE spokeswoman Kim Freeman in a statement: “GE Appliances monitors the available information relating to our products as part of our continuous improvement efforts. SaferProducts.gov provides one source of information, although the government does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information reported.” Representatives of Whirlpool and Sears did not respond to requests for comment.
While the consumer groups call SaferProducts.gov “a must-visit site for anyone buying products for children, relatives, or friends this holiday season,” the report notes that it could be used more. For example, other government databases that accept reports from consumers contain far more entries than SaferProducts.gov.
The report recommends that the commission should better promote the site among consumers and specifically encourage health care professionals to use it.
“If we have more people who know about SaferProducts.gov, more people will use it and we will have a safer America,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director with U.S. PIRG.
This story was reported by FairWarning (www.fairwarning.org), a nonprofit news organization based in Pasadena, Calif., that focuses on public health, safety and environmental issues.