Toy makers close in on safety plan
Group representing companies hopes to get regulators' OK on tougher testing measures.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Toy industry executives met Thursday to hammer out tough new safety measures for toy makers, including a requirement that would make testing mandatory.
The initiative by the Toy Industry Association, which was announced in September, comes as Congress is considering harsh rules on companies that sell unsafe products.
This year's recall of more than 25 million toys because of lead paint hazards and defective designs has riled consumer interest groups. Toy safety has become a hot button issue in Washington, where the House and the Senate are at odds over how tough the new measures should be.
Currently, the TIA, the trade group which represents 500 toy makers and importers, offers voluntary safety guidelines.
Advocacy groups and legislators have complained that the Consumer Product Safety Commission doesn't do enough to keep unsafe products off store shelves.
But the agency, which has a limited budget and staff, is also held back by the lack of a federal requirement that toy manufacturers test their products for hazardous chemicals or design risks. The CPSC does issue safety guidelines pertaining to the use of hazardous substances, flammability and noise levels.
"The [CPSC] doesn't have pre-market jurisdiction, which means that they can't test products before they hit the market," said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety and senior counsel with advocacy group Consumer Federation of America.
Bills in the House and Senate would mandate third-party testing, although they differ in their details.
On Wednesday, the House approved legislation that would reduce the amount of permissible lead in consumer products, require manufacturers to include tracking labels so that recalled products can be quickly traced, and significantly boost the CPSC's budget.
A similar product safety bill approved by the Senate in October has even stricter provisions. It would protect private-sector whistleblowers and allow states' attorneys general to sue companies for violating federal product safety laws.
Joan Lawrence, TIA's vice president for safety standards and regulatory affairs, said the group hoped to present its final testing and safety enforcement plan to the CPSC on Dec. 31.
Sources close to the process said the proposal was not finalized at Thursday's meeting, and that it was likely it would not be announced until next month.
The industry group is hoping that the CPSC, which has been attending its meetings from the start of the process, will endorse its testing plan and certify it as the new standard for toy safety.
She said the three-point program will dictate the timing and frequency of sample toy testing at the source of production and after products are imported into the United States.
Currently, 85 percent of the world's toys are manufactured in China.
Second, the program calls for independent auditing in foreign countries to ensure that factories follow quality standards consistent with U.S. standards, Lawrence said.
"The auditing provision is intended to complement federal requirements for toy testing," Lawrence said.
Third, the TIA's proposal will include a requirement that manufacturers test products at every stage of development for design flaws. Media attention this year has focused on recalls resulting from high levels of lead, but most toy recalls stem from design problems.
"So far the CPSC has liked what they've seen. They haven't yet endorsed it but we are confident we will get recognition for it," she said.
A spokeswoman for CPSC declined to comment but said that an agency official participated in Thursday's meeting.