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CPSC Commissioner Urges Furniture Manufacturers To Speak Up

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Furniture makers need to speak up and provide government regulators with practical guidance if they want to prevent more onerous product testing requirements that impose burdensome costs on their industry.

That was the message from Nancy A. Nord, commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), who joined a panel of home furnishings industry executives speaking to the press on the opening day of the High Point Market here. Nord’s visit to the market was sponsored by the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA).  

“It is critical that we hear from furniture makers,” said Nord. “Without that input, there’s no way we’re going to get it right.” Specifically, the commissioner said the CPSC requires additional insights to help it iron out ongoing challenges within the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), a sweeping reform signed into law by President Bush in August 2008.

CPSIA was developed by Congress in response to widespread recalls of children’s toys and jewelry containing lead. It grants the CPSC additional powers and funding to police unsafe products, but, in the process, also presents a number of testing and certification obstacles for manufacturers, including for those who make home furnishings. 

Panelists invited to shed light on some of those obstacles were Bruce Bradburn, CEO of The Bradburn Company and chairman of AHFA’s government affairs committee; Kevin J. Sauder, president and CEO of Sauder Woodworking Company; and Rob Sligh, chairman and CEO of Sligh Furniture Company and a past AHFA president. Producers of furniture, lighting and accent furnishings at a range of price points, these executives shared their views on the impact of CPSIA and other government regulations on their respective businesses and the industry.

Putting a face on the issue

 “What goes on in Washington has a huge impact on how we make our product,” said Bradburn. “But people up in Washington don’t necessarily know what happens in factories.” Bradburn highlighted AHFA’s heightened activities in Washington over the past two years, including several trips to Washington to meet face-to-face with legislators and regulators. “We’re trying to put a face on our industry so our opinions can be valued,” he explained.

Regulations that are out of touch with the realities of production processes are one of many issues AHFA members have tried to bring to the attention of decision-makers in Washington. For example, CPSIA requires that particleboard be tested for lead, even though there is no lead in particleboard. CPSIA also limits the presence of lead in components of children’s products – a provision that makes children’s beds and chests noncompliant due to the metal screws that hold them together.

“When we have regulations to protect us from things that are not really a danger, many consumers just stop paying attention,” offered panelist Rob Sligh. “It’s like the boy who cried wolf. When there really is an important danger, it’s reasonable to wonder how many people will listen.”

Noting the disconnect between government officials and consumer products manufacturing, Nord encouraged lawmakers to get out of Washington and go to where products are being made. “If we could impose that requirement on ourselves, I think it would be good.”

Panelist Kevin Sauder offered that some of the responsibility for better regulations rests with manufacturers. He said getting involved in government affairs – including making a concerted effort to get to know his state’s U.S. representatives and senators – has changed his perspective. “Going from being reactive to being proactive can make a really big difference,” he said. 

Nord pointed out that the CPSC is currently developing a new regulation that will further define the testing and certification requirements within CPSIA, and the results will likely be “an unprecedented intrusion of the federal government onto the factory floor.”

She said the CPSC also is preparing to launch a new consumer complaint database that will allow consumers to file a complaint against a product and its manufacturer. The manufacturer will have 10 days to respond, but even if the allegation is unfounded, the posting will be online for all to see.

Nord said it is “absolutely critical” for the CPSC and Congress to hear from manufacturers with details on how the proposed regulations will impact them. 
“I consider the furniture industry to be a very critical partner with the CPSC as we address consumer product safety issues,” said Nord. “The furniture industry has a strong history of stepping up and working with our agency when problems come up.”

She cited furniture tip-over and bunk bed hazards as two areas effectively addressed by voluntary industry efforts spearheaded by the AHFA.

When asked about her impressions of the High Point Market – the largest wholesale exhibition of residential furnishings in the world – Commissioner Nord said: “I hope I get invited back. It’s been a real revelation to me to see the scope and range of products here.”

AHFA recommends manufacturers, suppliers and retailers join its efforts to effect change on these issues, as well as to contact their local Congressional representatives to ensure their opinion is heard.

The American Home Furnishings Alliance – located in High Point, N.C., and Washington, D.C. – is the largest association of home furnishings companies in the world and represents more than 200 leading furniture manufacturers and distributors, as well as nearly 150 suppliers to the furniture industry worldwide.

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