Advocacy Visits Product Safety Testing Labs

By Rebecca Krafft, Senior Editor

On July 6, Office of Advocacy staff members visited the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) National Product Testing and Evaluation Center in Rockville, Md.

Congress created the CPSC in 1973 as an independent regulatory agency. Its mission includes:

  • Protecting the public against unreasonable risks of injuries and deaths associated with consumer products,
  • Developing mandatory and voluntary safety standards,
  • Minimizing conflicting state and local regulations,
  • Providing comparative safety information, and
  • Promoting research and investigation into the causes and prevention of injuries

CPSC regulations must comply with the RFA and take small businesses into account when drafting regulations. Advocacy filed a comment letter in April on a new safety standard for portable generators.

CPSC invited Advocacy staff to learn about its procedures and its scientific testing. Two of its scientists, and Dr. Andrew Stadnik, head of laboratory sciences, Dr. Aaron Orland, head of the chemistry group, led the tours.

The testing lab is staffed by 90 scientists and engineers. It contains facilities for testing the safety of toys and children’s products, pools and spas, bike helmets, fireworks, ATVs and sport vehicles, matresses, Christmas trees, and other things for sale to the public. The well-equipped facilities and engaging, talkative scientists belied the seriousness of the mission that drives their agency. Many of the items under scrutiny have been implicated in accidents that have caused life altering injuries or fatalities. The scientists look for causes of many kinds—faulty design, manufacturing defects, chemical composition, behavioral factors (misuse), improper labeling. They also investigate possible solutions to inform safety standards.

Many of the products they see are imported goods, and the businesses that are affected are often first-time importers. But domestic products also pose dangers – as in the example of Christmas trees, which when unwatered, ignite within minutes. One of the agencies’ other key functions is to publicize safety practices around the holidays – flammable costumes at Halloween, turkey fryers at Thanksgiving, safe Christmas trees and presents, and fireworks at the Fourth of July. To learn more about the CPSC, visit the agency’s website.


In addition to ATVs and ROVs, strollers are evaluated for stability in the Outdoor Power Sports Lab.


Turkey fryers are often involved in burns and fires.


The design of this novelty lighter causes it to explode.


A scanning electron microscope is used in materials testing.


Visiting the Toy Test Lab. This crossbow is safe only when used as directed.


Looking for the cause of a fire in the Electronic Products Test Lab.


A video showing the flammability of dry Christmas trees is displayed in front of the enclosure in which the experiment took place.


Soft plastic products are tested for the presence of phthalates, which disrupt children’s growth.

Fireworks are tested in the Chemistry Lab. Dangers are found in chemical composition, design, labeling, and construction. CPSC estimates that in 2015, about 11,900 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with fireworks

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