The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been in the hot seat lately, criticized for its handling of recent children’s and infant product recalls. The latest chapter in the “failure to act” saga features in-home elevators that are putting children at risk. While it appears the agency is trying to regain control of the story by issuing a safety warning in recent days, it may be too little too late.
Consumer advocates have been calling for the CPSC to force a recall of residential elevators for some time, but their voices were magnified in recent weeks after The Washington Post featured stories about victims of elevator entrapments. Now it’s clear that consumer advocates and the victims’ families have enlisted the support of lawmakers. Following a July 18 story from The Washington Post, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, called for an independent investigation into the CPSC’s handling of elevator risks.
While we’re not inside the agency and cannot speak to what is, or is not, happening behind closed doors, one thing is for sure: Consumer confidence in the CPSC is waning. If companies aren’t careful, that frustration will snowball and the CPSC’s safety problems will become your problem. The key for companies sensing they may soon find themselves in the midst of the CPSC’s storm is to look inward:
- Put yourself in the victim’s shoes. Are you listening to them? Did you show empathy? Did you do what you could to act quickly to warn consumers and offer them a fix? What would you expect from your company if it was your child, brother, sister, parent, grandparent or friend whose safety was threatened because of your product?
- Pay attention to your safety record. Whether consumers believe it or not, we know that the vast majority of companies are truly and honorably committed to safety. But does your safety record – we’re talking the stats and numbers about your product – support that? If so, have the information at the ready.
- Live your commitment to safety. Your actions will determine whether people believe you when you say that you are committed to safety. Don’t let the story be about your weak language in a news release or worse, completely denying the safety issue. When it comes to safety, consumers don’t care about regulatory definitions and nuance even if your legal team does. Choose your battles wisely and always remember to act in the name of consumer safety.
- Don’t hide behind the regulator. Sure, regulatory compliance is an important factor to consider when running your business. But it shouldn’t paralyze you. Regulators may enter and exit your story when recalls happen, but consumer confidence in your brand will depend on YOUR actions. If you know about a risk or issue, take the bull by the horns. Consumers will thank you for doing the right thing.
We hope the CPSC can reach consensus and at least present a unified front in protecting people. The current status quo – an agency believed to be dragging its feet and run by Commissioners who are often at odds with each other – is not good for anyone. But in the meantime, companies need to demonstrate on their own that they are protecting consumers.