An independent federal regulatory agency, the CPSC was founded in 1972 after Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Act to protect the public "against unreasonable risks of injuries associated with consumer products." It began operating in 1973 and is headed by three commissioners who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Commissioners serve staggered terms of seven years each.
Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., with laboratories in Gaithersburg, Md., the CPSC employs about 480 people who review the safety of more than 15,000 products, according to the agency's Web site.
Helping Manufacturers Ensure Safety
The CPSC monitors products that are commonly used in and around homes, schools and businesses. It does not test specific products for safety. Rather, it helps manufacturers ensure that their products are safe before reaching the market and offers consumers recommendations to help them make informed decisions about the safety of products. It covers all manufacturers of consumer products, regardless of their size, and issues regulations that manufacturers must follow.
What CPSC Does Not Regulate
The CPSC has no jurisdiction over certain product categories -- such as cars, alcoholic beverages, food, drugs, pesticides and medical devices -- that other federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration instead may regulate. The commission also has no say over false advertising, fraud or poor product quality; that's the Federal Trade Commission's bailiwick.
Coordinating Prodcuct Recalls
The CPSC helps industries develop voluntary safety standards for their products, but also will mandate and enforce standards-even ban dangerous products-to protect the public. If a product already on the market is shown to be dangerous or pose any risks to the public, the CPSC will coordinate a recall and make sure the manufacturer either repairs the product or offers refunds to consumers. The majority of recalls are voluntary, negotiated between the CPSC and the manufacturer, although some recalls are mandatory. Over the years, the CPSC has been responsible for everything from mandating child-resistant cigarette lighters to requiring flammability standards for mattresses to banning lawn darts.
Favoring No Product
The commission does not give approval to specific brands of products, but rather provides information to consumers on what product safety features to look for. It conducts research to identify potential safety risks and keeps the public, industry and local governments informed through an extensive array of public announcements, publications and reports on a wide variety of products as well.
Phaedra Trethan is a freelance writer who also works as a copy editor for the Camden Courier-Post. She formerly worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she wrote about books, religion, sports, music, films and restaurants.