Product Safety: New Threats and the Biggest Problem Today
One of the main challenges of product safety is keeping up with the continuous flow of new information. The science and laws on the subject are always changing, developing and moving on to new things, so to best protect your business you need to make every effort to stay current. To make that struggle a little easier for you, I was able to get some insights on current and future product safety issues facing the industry from Larry Whitney, manager trade compliance for Leed's. Though brief, our conversation covered a bunch of new upcoming safety concerns, such as triclosan and lithium batteries, as well as the biggest safety issue facing the industry today.
Promo Marketing: What do you think the next big product safety issue for this industry will be, and why?
Larry Whitney: Take your pick of any number of issues:
- Microban/Triclosan* is used as an antibacterial treatment in many consumer products and products in our industry, and it is under study by the FDA and EPA as an endocrine disruptor—similar to what we saw with BPA. There have been reports that new regulations might be forthcoming by the end of this year.
- Fabric treatments for flammability are starting to get publicity over their health dangers.
- Lithium batteries in consumer products have lead to several fires—and two cargo airliner crashes in the past year. The DOT is considering regulations to ban shipments by air of products with lithium batteries.
- BPA will continue to keep popping up because the press just figured out that it is common in cash register receipts, epoxy dental fillings and canned food.
- Vinyl. Some large end-users are starting to indicate that they are phasing out purchases of any products made with vinyl. Since vinyl used in so many products in our industry, this could be earth-shattering for many companies.
*Mike's note: I had no idea what Microban and triclosan were, so I had to look them up. According to the FDA, "Triclosan is an ingredient added to many consumer products to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It may be found in products such as clothing, kitchenware, furniture and toys. It also may be added to antibacterial soaps and body washes, toothpastes, and some cosmetics." Microban is a corporate chemical brand that is also an antibacterial and antifungal/anti-algae additive, similar in purpose to Triclosan though it's actually a collection of technologies designed to prevent bacteria and mold (see its own website description), rather than a single antibacterial chemical like triclosan.
PM: Currently, what do you think is the biggest product safety hurdle currently facing the industry, and why is this the case?
LW: Ignorance of the basic requirements needed to ensure safe products. Safe products don't just happen, they require ownership at all levels of a supply chain: the end-user, the distributor, the supplier and the factory that manufactures the item. Any party in that supply chain that assumes that the others are taking care of looking out for product safety is fooling themselves. Everyone needs to be involved in the process and acknowledge that safe products might cost more than the unsafe products of yesterday did.
PM: Right now, are there any types of products that are more complex or troublesome from a product safety standpoint than others (pens vs. electronics, etc.)? Why (or why not) is this the case?
LW: Each product must go through a risk analysis based on its individual characteristics and its intended use. Items intended for use by children have a whole range of requirements that must be reviewed, while others may have fairly minimal requirements. One needs to think about the item and the myriad collection of government regulations that might apply. CPSC, FDA, DOT and the EPA are only a few of the Federal Agencies that have rules that might affect promotional products. At the moment children's products are getting a lot of attention, because CPSIA was only passed in 2008, and Congress did a poor job of drafting the legislation. The idea behind the law is great, but the language in the law is imprecise, which has created a lot of confusion as to its requirements and what is covered.
Until next week!
MONDAY MIKE FACT: Daylight Savings Time is almost over. I could not be more excited. Gaining that extra hours is routinely one of the best moments of my year.