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Dangerous products: Do you have a right to know?
Over the past several years, we’ve reported on potentially hazardous products that have been linked to deaths and injuries. Sometimes they are recalled but often regulators know about potential problems long before that and the public is kept in the dark.
Some safety experts say the public has a right to know. In the U.S. there’s a law restricting the release of information that could reveal product names where deaths and injuries have been reported.
Consumer Reports identified 19 infant fatalities linked to inclined sleepers yet the law blocked access to information about specific products or company names.
“Section 6-B requires the CPSC, in most cases, to get permission from manufacturers before releasing their names or any information that could reveal their identities, even when products are linked with injuries or fatalities,” said Rachel Rabkin Peachman, Consumer Reports Investigative Reporter.
In April Fisher-Price recalled its Rock ‘n Play Sleeper.
“We always move as fast as we can with recalls,” said James Teshima, Compliance and Enforcement Specialist with Health Canada’s Consumer Product Safety division.
However, there were no incidents reported in Canada prior to the U.S. recall even though some had been sold here. A larger U.S. population means hazards are more likely to get reported there, where getting key information to the public is blocked.
“Often what we’ll see is after we post a recall for something that’s serious, a lot of consumers will come out and say oh yeah the same thing happened to me,” explained Teshima.
However, Canada is not restricted from releasing product information to the public and if asked about incidents involving injury and death regarding a specific product that information will be made available.
But companies in Canada weren’t required to report incidents until 2011 after the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act came into force.
Also, Canada is not bound by what U.S. regulators do.
“With baby walkers, we prohibited their sale in Canada a number of years ago but that for instance is an example of product that is still legal for sale in the United States,” said Teshima.
In 2011 Canada also banned the sale of the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper because it didn’t comply with Canadian safety regulations. However, some were sold online and in 2018 Canadian regulators asked Amazon to recall units sold here. After the U.S. recall Canadian regulators asked Mattel, the parent company of Fisher-Price to issue the recall here too, in order to ensure any products still out there got returned.
But it’s essential the consumers report any potential safety issues or incidents involving a consumer product. Because even though Canada may respond in a different manner, it won’t know unless you report the incident to both the manufacturer and Health Canada.
“It’s an opportunity for them to possibly be the first step in a recall of an unsafe product,” said Teshima.
You should also be aware that it’s illegal for a recalled product to be resold, redistributed or even given away. If you have a recalled product, stop using it immediately and ask for a refund.