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CPSC revamps ‘regulatory robot’ to help small- and mid-size businesses spot product-safety requirements
By John Drake on November 16, 2018 at 9:40 AM

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Regulatory Robot online tool screenshotThis month, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a revamped tool on its website to help businesses without dedicated product safety professionals identify and navigate the web of federal product safety requirements that apply to manufacturers, distributors, importers and retailers.

Before developing a new gadget or agreeing to distribute or sell a new toy, businesses must understand whether their product is subject to mandatory product specifications, testing regimes, or certifications. And when a company gets word that a product in development or in commerce has a potential product safety issue, the business needs to know what rules apply. The CPSC’s new tool, Regulatory Robot 2.0, is a good starting point, but businesses should still seek the advice of product safety counsel to understand how to apply the rules to a given product, to fully appreciate the business risks associated with making, distributing and selling consumer products, and to develop pro-active product safety programs and recall plans.

Regulatory Robot 2.0 is an online form available at https://business.cpsc.gov/robot/ that produces a list of potentially applicable federal product safety requirements based on information entered by the business about a product. For example, the report may inform the business of the following: whether the product requires third-party testing; whether the product must meet certain size thresholds (e.g., small-part regulations for children’s toys); whether the product is subject to lead-content requirements; whether certificates of conformity or particular labeling are required; or if the product is subject to dozens of other federal requirements. The report can be printed as a PDF once prepared. According to the CPSC, the information entered and the report produced will not be maintained by the CPSC.

Businesses considering using Regulatory Robot 2.0 should keep a few things in mind:

  1. The utility of the report is necessarily limited by the user’s ability to interpret and apply the legal regulations to a given product.
  2. CPSC regulations, guidance and applicable case law change from time to time, so the results may not reflect the most current law.
  3. The CPSC report does not constitute an opinion from a regulatory agency and cannot be cited as a defense if a company fails to comply with federal product-safety rules.

Also, manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers are required to immediately report to the CPSC if a product has a defect that could create a substantial risk of injury to consumers or otherwise creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death. This requirement applies even if the product in question is not subject to a specific product safety rule, regulation, standard or ban. Finally, while the report may identify what rules apply, it may not indicate who within the product supply chain is responsible, under the law, for ensuring compliance.

Businesses should consider product safety issues early during product development, distribution or sale; the Regulatory Robot is a good starting point. That early investment in time and research, guided by the advice of product safety counsel, can head off expensive remediation (including a public recall) before it is even necessary and will pay off if the company learns of a product-safety issue after sales have begun.

Greensfelder attorneys have experience advising companies on compliance with CPSC regulations for products, developing product-safety programs and recall plans, investigating whether reports to the CPSC are necessary, and conducting voluntary product recalls in cooperation with the CPSC.

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