NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Regulatory Overkill For Bunk Beds

June 9, 1999

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is proposing to replace the voluntary safety standards followed by bunk bed manufacturers with mandatory government rules, claiming the industry has not achieved a high enough rate of "substantial compliance" with the standards. The standards were written by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), a nongovernmental body, and currently enjoy an estimated 90 percent industry-wide compliance rate.

Amendments to the Consumer Product Safety Act in 1981 require that CPSC defer to voluntary standards when they are adequate to eliminate or reduce unreasonable risk, and there is "substantial compliance" with the standard.

  • According to Frances Smith of Consumer Alert, the intent of the act "was clearly to allow the private sector to develop its own standards whenever restricting federal regulatory agencies such as the CSPC from regulating in areas already covered by non-government standards."
  • However, the CPSC's General Counsel has said the commission could find a voluntary standard inadequate if a mandatory standard would achieve a higher degree of compliance.
  • Any standard is likely to achieve higher compliance rates if it is mandatory rather than voluntary, says Smith, and thus "CPSC could easily make the case to eliminate all non-governmental standards and replace them with mandatory rules."

In cases where manufacturers don't follow the voluntary standards, the CSPC has the option of applying a "substantial product hazard" definition to a non-complying product to bring it into compliance.

An ASTM subcommittee recently agreed to revise the standard to include three new safety provisions recommended by the CSPC. Smith notes that in the year the CSPC has already spent on its proposed mandatory rules, the ASTM standard could have been revised and products manufactured today would be complying with them.

Source: "Voluntary Standards Threatened by CSPC: The Bunk Bed Saga Continues," Consumer Comments, March/April 1999; and Carol Dawson,"Consumer Alert Comments on Bunk Beds, 'Substantial Compliance,'" CPSC Monitor, May 11, 1999, Consumer Alert, 1001 Connecticut Avenue N.W., Suite 1128, Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 467-5809.


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