• Thomas Russell

CPSC Chairman Buerkle addresses AHFA Regulatory Summit

Agency leader calls for industry engagement and data collection in product safety decisions

Ann Marie BuerkleAnn Marie Buerkle
COLFAX, N.C. - Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle revealed her agency’s plans to boost engagement with various industries as it continues its mission of protecting consumers against unsafe products in the marketplace. 

As part of that mission, she added, the CPSC needs to make decisions that are not based on emotion, but rather on data and research. She also touted the flexibility and relevance of voluntary standards that get both regulators and industry to the table to discuss this type information to ultimately address and improve product safety. 

Buerkle spoke Wednesday to a gathering of furniture industry compliance and safety experts attending the American Home Furnishings Alliance 2017 Regulatory Summit held at Guilford Technical Community College’s Colfax campus. Roughly 170 individuals, including industry professionals, legal counsel, government officials and representatives of various product testing firms, attended the event. 

“We have to rely on data,” she told the audience. “Our voluntary standards can’t be based on emotion. They have to be based on science and data. We have to be brought up to the 21st century to make data- driven decisions.” 

The issue is key as the CPSC weighs issues of importance to the furniture industry, including changes to a voluntary tip-over standard that could increase testing weights of clothing storage units from 50 to 60 pounds. 

“It is about the data, the numbers and the science,” Buerkle added regarding the implementation and effectiveness of voluntary standards. “That is how we protect the consumer, by being vigilant about the data and the science.” 

She also identified several key priorities for her agency as it moves into the new fiscal year. These included making sure it uses its resources – both employees and funding – wisely. “The resources are limited, and we have to pay attention to how we spend money,” she noted. 

She added that the agency also needs to continue engagement with various industries across the 15,000 products it has jurisdiction over in the marketplace. “It is critical for us to engage,” she said. “Collaboration and engagement is extremely important to me.” 

Other priorities include educating both consumers and industry and making sure there is transparency throughout the agency. Another key goal is to keep unsafe products from entering the U.S. from other countries, a process that will require the agency to work closely with Customs and Border Protection as it monitors the movement of products through U.S. ports. 

As the agency continues its discussion of tip-over in the new fiscal year, Buerkle said it plans to use its ANPR (Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) as another opportunity to engage with the furniture industry. This type of engagement, she noted, will help guide the decision making process. 

“We need to look at data before we make any changes,” she said. 

Buerkle took several questions from the audience including one regarding how comments on social media influence the debate on product safety. Here, too, she urged for the collection of more data- driven  information. 

“We don’t need to sensationalize,” she said. “We need to see the facts.” 

Harrison Toms, manager of product integrity and regulatory compliance at Hooker Furniture Corp., agreed that the CPSC needs to get more complete data before it makes any decisions on product safety, including the issue of increasing the testing weight for tip-overs. 

“It doesn’t show we need to go to 60 pounds based on IDI (In-Depth Investigation) data,” he said, adding that anything less than complete data involved in any decision making regarding product safety suggests that these decisions could be simply based on guesswork. 

Other speakers at the event included Erik Winchester, the Fiber & Organics Branch Chief for the EPA, who gave an update on the new national formaldehyde standard; William Guerry Jr., a partner in the Washington office of Kelley Drye, who talked about the Trump administration’s impact on EPA regulation; Chris Andersen, a senior vice president in the Washington office of Dutko GR, who discussed the legislative and regulatory climate in Washington for 2018; and Mark Fellin, a compliance expert at Amazon, who discussed how Amazon Direct Imports handles regulatory and compliance issues and policies.  

The afternoon session featured Michael Sullivan, managing partner of Womble Carlyle and Christa Burger, also an attorney at Womble Carlyle, who discussed the issue of compliance and risk management; Christine Zanella, a compliance manager at Wayfair, who discussed global compliance issues in an e-commerce world; and Allyson Azar, manager of state affairs and political mobilization at the American Chemistry Council, who discussed state regulation. 

For a full report on the summit, see Furniture Today’s Nov. 6 print edition.

Thomas RussellThomas Russell | Associate Editor, Furniture Today

I'm Tom Russell and have worked at Furniture/Today since August 2003. Since then, I have covered the international side of the business from a logistics and sourcing standpoint. Since then, I also have visited several furniture trade shows and manufacturing plants in Asia, which has helped me gain perspective about the industry in that part of the world. As I continue covering the import side of the business, I look forward to building on that knowledge base through conversations with industry officials and future overseas plant tours. From time to time, I will file news and other industry perspectives online and, as always, welcome your response to these Web postings.

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