Thursday, March 8, 2012
From dishwashers that spark and flame to ovens that turn on spontaneously, kitchen appliances are the top source of complaints in the government's year-old product safety database.
One-third of the more than 6,500 reports filed to SaferProducts.gov in the past year were complaints about appliances, mostly in the kitchen. Other top categories included nursery equipment, toys, footwear and home climate-control systems.
SaferProducts.gov, created a year ago next week, is a database where people can submit reports, for public view, of injury or worse from everyday products in and around the home. Users of the site also can search for products that have been recalled.
Consumer advocates say the database brings transparency to product safety by allowing people to see complaints instead of waiting for the government to first investigate whether a recall is needed. It has been derided, however, by Republicans and others who say bogus or misleading information in the database could needlessly frighten consumers and spell the demise of a business offering products that are perfectly safe.
Despite the criticism, the head of the agency that oversees the database, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, says it has been a helpful resource for consumers and manufacturers.
"I think people have realized after living with it for a year that it's a useful tool for consumers, for the CPSC and for businesses," CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said in an interview. "Businesses are finding out what the consumers' experience is with their products."
The first legal challenge to the database was filed last fall in Maryland by an unidentified manufacturer, "Company Doe," which asked to have its real name concealed. It wants to stop the CPSC from publishing online a complaint about a product the company makes. The filing says there is no factual evidence to support the complaint.
The commission screens each incoming complaint for basic information — name, contact information, product, injury and date — and allows the manufacturer to respond or object before publishing. Any responses from the businesses named in the complaints are also published in the database for consumers to see.
The total number of complaints published was just over 6,500 as of last week, so an average of about 550 complaints a month. Most of the reports, the commission said, were filed by consumers — about 97 percent. Medical professionals, government agencies and public safety officials also may file reports.
While 550 or so complaints a month might seem light given the universe of products the CPSC regulates — about 15,000 products — Tenenbaum said the 6,500 reports so far is a respectable number. "It shows me that consumers are using it," she said.
The agency said the specific products that received the most complaints were electric ovens and ranges, with 638 reports, and dishwashers, with 440 reports, followed by footwear products, refrigerators, microwave ovens, light bulbs, gas ranges, coffee makers and cribs.