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Commission Staff Opposes Voluntary Product Safety Rules

January 10, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A proposal to give government’s stamp of approval to industry-devised product safety standards is running into opposition from the staff of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

After months of discussions and detailed analysis of comments from industry, consumer groups and other government agencies, the staff told the commission Wednesday that the idea should be dropped.

Despite the staff recommendation, Commission Chairman Terrence M. Scanlon suggested that a test program be developed to obtain more information about the proposal.

Under the voluntary regulation scheme, the government safety agency would endorse product safety standards devised by industry if it considered them adequate.

Currently, if voluntary safety standards for a product are in effect, the commission generally defers to them and does not add mandatory rules. But the commission does not officially endorse or recognize any of those standards. Where it finds safety problems it can impose mandatory regulations.

Commission endorsement of voluntary standards developed by industry was suggested a year ago as a means of encouraging manufacturers to increase safety while conserving commission staff time, which would no longer be needed to enforce mandatory regulations.

The idea was opened to public comment last summer and nearly 40 responses were received. Based on those comments Harry I. Cohen, director of the commission’s Office of Program Management, told the commission Wednesday that the ″staff recommends that the proposal not be finalized.″

A vote on the question is tentatively set for next week, although action could still be delayed on the proposal.

Scanlon told The Associated Press in a recent interview that while he favors the idea, a majority of the commission is necessary to put it into effect. ″If you asked me for a guess today, it (the vote) would probably be 2-2, which means it wouldn’t carry,″ he said.

There is one vacancy on the five-member commission.

″We might conceivably do a pilot. That’s what I would recommend before we take this on, to see where the problems are with it. Take one or two industry standards, adopt those, try them out for a year and see what happens,″ Scanlon added. He urged development of a test project again on Wednesday.

Commissioner Stuart Statler, on the other hand, was vocal in his opposition to the plan.

″We need to junk this proposal″ and find another method to encourage industry to pursue product safety, he said Wednesday.

Statler said the public would be unable to differentiate between a commission recognition of a standard and a legal endorsement, citing comments from the federal Office of Consumer Affairs.

He also pointed out a letter from the Federal Trade Commission warning that safety commission endorsement of standards could affect competition in industry.

For example, if the commission endorsed a safety standard for electric heaters it might give that industry an advantage over makers of oil, gas, coal or wood burning heaters, even though the only reason they had no endorsement was because the commission had not gotten around to them yet.

In addition, Statler warned, endorsing a standard might encourage consumers to falsely assume the product was completely safe and might lead manufacturers to comply only with the minimum standards rather than seeking extra features.

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