Thursday, September 20, 2012

HTA Letter to CPSC on Reducing Testing Costs

We have been pleased to read the recently released staff document titled Consideration of Opportunities to Reduce Third Party Testing Costs Consistent with Assuring the Compliance of Children’s Products and would like to take this opportunity to comment on the recommendations. As you know, the members of the Handmade Toy Alliance have been considerably affected by the requirements of third party test and the “Small Batch” provisions of H.R.2715 provide relief for only a portion of our membership. We appreciate the efforts of the staff and commissioners to work towards additional solutions to this problem. There is still much to be done to restore businesses and reestablish the prominence of handmade toys in the United States.

Our Priorities for Staff Recommendations
Listed below are those staff recommendations we feel most directly address the burdens still borne by the members of the Handmade Toy Alliance. Our comments follow each recommendation.

(1) Establish a List of Equivalent Tests to those in CPSC-Administered Children’s Product Safety Rules 
First, accept our thanks for considering this issue and the comments from our letter of January 9th, 2012. This has been and continues to be a significant issue for us especially in relation to importing small batch1 toys from second tier manufacturers within the European Union where these toys have already undergone testing for compliance to the European Union (EU) toy safety standard EN71. Just over 25% of our members are small specialty retailers and importers who depend on access to small batch children’s products that the EU considers safe but are excluded from the market in the USA because of the economic burden of duplicate tests.

Moving forward with this staff recommendation provides substantial opportunity to: reduce duplication of effort and testing cost, clarify equivalencies and differences between standards, and to provide a vital first step towards harmonization of children’s product safety standards. We stress that harmonization is  our eventual goal in this effort, and that with careful attention to the process; harmonization can be accomplished with no compromise to safety in children's products.

There is no doubt that the primary way to restore the flow of safe small batch children’s products from Europe is to reduce and eventually remove the economic burden the CPSIA imposes on these manufacturers. The benefits are many: reopening trade between the USA and the EU, providing opportunity for specialty toy shops to compete with the mass market retailers, and restoring the enriching variety of wooden and classic toys from Europe.

(2) Research the Feasibility of Developing a List of Materials Determined Not to Contain the Eight Heavy Elements Listed in ASTM F963-11
A primary method used by members of the Handmade Toy alliance to reduce the cost of compliance is the component part rule in combination with the list of products determined not to contain lead in 16 CFR Part 1500. The new requirement of ASTM F963-11 with limits placed on concentrations of other heavy metals is an excellent opportunity to extend the positive impact of the existing determinations.

As small batch toys often use natural materials, the reduction in testing cost here is important. Effort expended by CPSC staff to make these determinations is an investment worth making. For many small batch manufacturers who use natural materials that already receive a lead exemption, this additional determination is a useful course to pursue while at the same time not compromising safety.

(3) Investigate Adding Manufactured Woods to Lead Determinations List 
The determination that wood does not contain lead is frequently used by small batch manufacturers to reduce the cost of compliance with the CPSIA regulation. “Manufactured woods” or laminated woods are frequently used in small batch children’s products when any dimension of the product increases above 10 cm (like a wooden puzzle) or if the product includes a cavity (such as a shape sorting box or dollhouse). For larger wooden components, manufactured wood is more stable and thus safer than wide pieces of solid wood, which can crack or splinter over time. We are concerned that some manufacturers will substitute solid wood for components which should otherwise be made from plywood or MDF in order to reduce testing costs.

If an investigation concludes that indeed manufactured woods do not include lead (or other heavy metals from (2) above) then toy safety is not compromised. Adding manufactured woods to the determinations list allows small batch manufacturers to resume using this material while taking advantage of the component part rule. Including manufactured woods in a lead testing exemption helps pave the way for this category of wooden toys from the EU to re-enter the USA market.

(4) Investigate CPSC Acceptance of Other Accreditation Bodies to Accredit Testing Laboratories to ISO/IEC 17025:2005 
The Handmade Toy Alliance supports any effort to increase the number of testing bodies certified to test for CPSIA compliance - especially where this expands the reach within the EU to make a third party testing laboratory more accessible when that laboratory is already testing compliance with EN71.

(5) Define a Periodic Testing Option Based on Volume of Products Manufactured Rather than Solely on a Time Period
The Handmade Toy Alliance supports an effort to set the frequency of periodic tests for low volume manufacturers based on quantities rather than time. There is reason to believe that a small batch manufacturer that performs a third party test can experience an economic savings by performing fewer tests within a fixed period of time.

Current rules which set retesting frequencies based on time rather than the number of units produced overwhelmingly favor large manufacturers at the expense of smaller manufacturers. The amount of theoretical risk which accumulates between periodic testing of an unchanging product is directly related to the number of units produced, not to the amount of time which has passed. We urge the commission to restore the rule which allows manufacturers to retest every 10,000 units.

Additional Considerations 
In addition to the recommendations submitted by the staff of the CPSC noted above, we’d like to reiterate two items we submitted in response to the request from the CPSC to comment on budget priorities for fiscal year 2014. These suggestions also help to reduce the costs of compliance for our members and do so without compromising product safety.

Product Specific Guidance 
The CPSC should publish guidance for common types of handmade toys and children’s products on how the myriad of safety laws apply to each specific product type. This helps small businesses get started and to understand the minimum amount of effort required to meet safety standards. The CPSC can work with the Handmade Toy Alliance and other small business groups to identify common products.

Specific guidance can be presented as web pages, PDFs, or handbooks as these are all searchable media. Webcasts can be created to aid the user and answer common questions. Some suggested product types are:

  • Infant and children’s clothes 
  • Doll clothing 
  • Wooden toys with no moving parts that are painted or finished 
  • Wooden toys with moving parts like wheels and axles with or without coatings 
  • Children’s jewelry 
  • Stuffed or plush toys 
  • Cloth dolls 
  • Vinyl dolls 
Component Parts Certification and Registry 
For handmade toymakers and small batch manufacturers, the most direct and cost-effective way to make sure their products are compliant is to use only raw materials and supplies that have been appropriately tested and certified to be free of lead and other toxic substances. We suggest that the CPSC work with toymakers and their suppliers to help create access to and market demand for raw materials that meet the requirements of the lead, toxics and flammability standards of the CPSIA.

Ultimately this should lead to a Component Part Registry or Seal program for raw materials that have been tested and certified not to contain lead or other toxics. The small businesses and hand-crafters that make toys can then easily find supplies and raw materials that carry the seal and are thus safe to use in their products. Suggestions for materials on such a list include:

  • Paints and finishes 
  • Fabrics 
  • Fabric accessories (snaps, fasteners, zippers) 
  • Fasteners and glues 
  • Beads and other embellishments 

The Handmade Toy Alliance greatly appreciates the efforts the CPSC has taken to accommodate our membership with respect to toy safety standards and third party testing. However it important to note that we are still on this journey and there continue to be opportunities where burdens can be reduced without compromising safety.

We truly support the suggestions recommended by your staff noted above as well as our additional considerations and believe these suggestions are valuable and worthwhile. Please consider their positive impact on small batch manufacturers during the briefing on September 19th, 2012.

We ask that you vote to approve the staff’s recommendations and direct staff to pursue the recommended opportunities to reduce third party testing burdens on October 3rd, 2012. Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

Randall Hertzler
Vice President of Handmade Toy Alliance

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