After an unsure start and a threat to its very existence, the government-run database that documents consumers’ safety issues with everything from dishwashers to tricycles survived its first year and is beginning to mature into the tool advocates had envisioned.
In that year, more than 6,500 reports were entered – about 97% of which came from consumers – muting early concerns by critics of the database that it would be filled up with entries from plaintiff’s lawyers. That was among the arguments when critics in Congress tried – and failed – to remove funding for the nascent project.
When the federal government a year ago unveiled the long-awaited database of consumer-reported safety hazards (available to the public at SaferProducts.gov), it marked a bold new turn in product safety. As much as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s role is to alert the public to product dangers, strict rules of disclosure keep most of the information away from the public until a tidy, negotiated deal is in place. It isn’t unusual for people – even babies – to get hurt from a known hazard while these deals are worked out between company lawyers and their government counterparts.
The database breaks down some of the secrecy by giving nearly real-time access to safety complaints lodged by fellow consumers. If you wanted to see whether anyone else had the end blow off their Pampered Chef ice cream scoop, you would have found that you weren’t alone. The scoops were recalled in December after 16 incidents that led to six injuries. Had you had checked the database a couple of months before that recall, you would have seen an exploding scoop had injured a man.
“There’s a huge value in SaferProducts.gov to the consumer because it empowers them with information,” CPSC spokeswoman Stacey Palosky said.
If you’re checking out a product, you can search by brand name, product name or type of product. Some of the results will include an array of photos and a sometimes detailed narrative about what happened. The company is offered a chance to respond before a report is posted, and there’s often a comment.
By far, the biggest category of complaints in year one was kitchen products (37%), which includes more than 2,200 reports about appliances (ranges/ovens and dishwashers were the top two).
Here are the other categories that got drew the most reports:
- Nursery Equipment and Supplies, 533 reports
- Toys, 297 reports
- Footwear, 293 reports
- Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning, 237 reports
- Indoor Lighting, 220 reports
- Cookware & Tableware, 199 reports
If you want to drill even deeper, you can dump the entire collection of reports into a spreadsheet. One thing you’d find if you really combed the data, as the safety advocacy group Kids in Danger did, is that you’re not only seeing product hazards that haven’t been made public, you’re also seeing an awful lot of people complaining about products that have already been recalled – indicating that more needs to be done to make consumers aware of recalls and product hazards.
Safety advocates say they are pleased consumers have this tool.
“It is working just as it was intended to work – a vast majority of the reports are from consumers who want to let someone know about a dangerous product,” said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger. “Reports are clear and concise and contain the information needed to get a general idea of the incident. Consumers can then use the database to view product reports.”
The database is an important resource, she said, for consumers to report problems they’ve experienced as well as to check on what others have experienced.
“When parents call me after their child is injured and I tell them about SaferProducts.gov, they all want to use it to alert other families to the hazard,” Cowles said. “Unlike the days before the database, where an injury report to CPSC could be hidden from view forever, this assures consumers that their experiences can be shared to prevent another injury.”