September 13, 2007

Are You Sitting Down? Because The Toy Industry Wants The CPSC To Bend Over

So last week's shock at a toy industry request for the federal government to set new safety testing standards has definitely worn off, even before Consumerist described the proposal as "an over-hyped batch of self-serving hogwash."

DT reader Mark quickly pointed out, for example, that the Toy Industry Association's suggestion of independently run, not government-run testing, would be a major cost obstacle to small-scale, independent toymakers, both domestic and international.

Slate's E. Marla Felcher finds even more reason to be critical of the industry's sudden cooperative mood:

  • The testing proposal would cover only hazardous material, not unsafe design flaws, which are the reason behind 76% of toy recalls in the last 19 years.
  • Most hazardous materials are already banned in toys under existing regulations.
  • Third-party testing would be used by toy companies to deflect responsibility in injury-related lawsuits.
  • The industry and the TIA have a long track record of flouting and fighting safety laws and standards already, including attempts to block choke hazard standards and labeling on infant toys.

    Felcher makes the rather compelling argument that stronger investigation and enforcement of existing is what's needed. Which is why the TIA's proposing precisely something else.

    What it would really take to make toys safer. [slate]

    Previously: You Sitting Down? Toymakers Request Federal Safety & Testing Standards


    I don't care about "unsafe design flaws". I have the ability to look and see small parts that might come off, sugar-coated magnets, or whirling sharpened blades. On the other hand, it's just not possible for me to test for invisible hazardous materials.

    I'm paranoid enough that I did get a lead check kit I use to spot-check particularly suspicious high-risk items, but for all I know those things could still be coated with cadmium/thorium/PCB/DDT mélange.

    [I agree to an extent, we don't base every toy purchase on "not suitable for ages 3 and under" labels, and parental judgment and responsibility come first and last. But even on the magnet issue, there are vigilant parents who didn't find out the magnets popped out of their toys until they found them in their kid's perforated stomach. -ed.]

    Require some level of mandatory testing, and use a sliding scale. Mattel pays the full price. Miss Betty Noodlemeyer from Myer's Flat pays a reduced fee.

    Or maybe not. Frankly, it's Noodlemeyer's product that probably needs testing the most because she has never designed a product before.

    Explicitly state that testing doesn't absolve a company of liability. That's true is many other areas. I know a hospital that installed a door security system after a state inspector gave it his OK. After it was installed, a county inspector said, "Hey, this violates state law. You cannot use it." There was no legal recourse.

    Let's remember that bringing ANY physical product to market requires on the order of $20K or more. It's expensive. That's why many inventors license their inventions for bigger companies to sell.

    The root issue is safety. I have a problem with people debating cost when the end result is someone dying, potentially many people dying.

    JR, this presuposes that the big toy company actually designed the toy in question. The slate mag podcast on this suggested that more and more of the big toy companies are just branding machines that outsource ever aspect of their business, including the design.

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