Furniture makers need to speak up and provide government regulators with practical guidance if they want to prevent more onerous product testing requirements that impose burdensome costs.
That was the message from Nancy A. Nord, commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). She joined a panel of home furnishings industry executives speaking to the press on the opening day of the High Point Market. Nord’s visit to the market was sponsored by the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA).
“It is critical that we hear from furniture makers,” said Nord. “Without that input, there’s no way we’re going to get it right.” Specifically, the commissioner said the CPSC requires additional insights to help it meet ongoing challenges within the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).
CPSIA was developed by Congress in response to widespread recalls of children’s toys and jewelry containing lead. It grants the CPSC additional powers and funding to police unsafe products, but, in the process, also presents a number of testing and certification obstacles for manufacturers, including for those who make home furnishings.
Panelists invited to shed light on some of those obstacles were Bruce Bradburn, CEO of Bradburn Co. and chairman of AHFA’s government affairs committee; Kevin J. Sauder, president and CEO of Sauder Woodworking Co.; and Rob Sligh, chairman and CEO of Sligh Furniture Co. and a past AHFA president. Producers of furniture, lighting and accent furnishings at a range of price points, these executives shared their views on the impact of CPSIA and other government regulations on their respective businesses and the industry.
Regulators need real-world perspective
“What goes on in Washington has a huge impact on how we make our product,” said Bradburn. “But people up in Washington don’t necessarily know what happens in factories.” Bradburn discussed AHFA’s activities in Washington over the past two years, including several trips to Washington to meet face-to-face with legislators and regulators. “We’re trying to put a face on our industry so our opinions can be valued,” he explained.
Regulations that are out of touch with the realities of production processes are one of many issues AHFA members have tried to bring to the attention of decision-makers in Washington. For example, CPSIA requires that particleboard be tested for lead, even though there is no lead in particleboard. CPSIA also limits the presence of lead in components of children’s products, a provision that makes children’s beds and chests noncompliant due to the metal screws that hold them together.
“When we have regulations to protect us from things that are not really a danger, many consumers just stop paying attention,” said panelist Rob Sligh. “It’s like the boy who cried wolf. When there really is an important danger, it’s reasonable to wonder how many people will listen.”
Noting the disconnect between government officials and consumer products manufacturing, Nord encouraged lawmakers to get out of Washington and go to where products are being made. “If we could impose that requirement on ourselves, I think it would be good.”
Panelist Kevin Sauder said that some of the responsibility for better regulations rests with manufacturers. He said getting involved in government affairs – including making a concerted effort to get to know his state’s U.S. representatives and senators – has changed his perspective. “Going from being reactive to being proactive can make a really big difference,” he said.
Nord pointed out that the CPSC is currently developing a new regulation that will further define the testing and certification requirements within CPSIA, and the results will likely be “an unprecedented intrusion of the federal government onto the factory floor.”
She said the CPSC also is preparing to launch a new consumer complaint database that will allow consumers to file a complaint against a product and its manufacturer. The manufacturer will have 10 days to respond, but even if the allegation is unfounded, the posting will be online for all to see.
Nord said it is “absolutely critical” for the CPSC and Congress to hear from manufacturers with details on how the proposed regulations will affect them.
“I consider the furniture industry to be a very critical partner with the CPSC as we address consumer product safety issues,” said Nord. “The furniture industry has a strong history of stepping up and working with our agency when problems come up.”
She cited furniture tip-over and bunk bed hazards as two areas effectively addressed by voluntary industry efforts spearheaded by the AHFA. AHFA recommends manufacturers, suppliers and retailers join its efforts to effect change on these issues, as well as to contact their local Congressional representatives to ensure their opinion is heard.
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