|An All-Consuming Career
by Clare Coppa
Each year, consumer advocates work to improve the safety of American
products. These are not your garden-variety supermarket surveyors
or telemarketers, but bona fide consumer specialists with regulatory
knowledge enabling them to lobby Congress and influence standards
as guardians for the consumer.
Dangerous products that cause injuries were among $4 billion worth
of infant and toddler products purchased last year. Representatives
from both federal government and non-profit watchdog agencies
like the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Consumer
Federation of America in Washington, D.C., have been active in
ASTM standards development for decades.
Attorney and author Mary Ellen R. Fise, general counsel for the
Consumer Federation of America, has helped to develop standards
for safer juvenile products with ASTM Consumer Products Committee
F15 since 1984.
For the most part, voluntary standards are one of the prime mechanisms
that we use in this country to provide protection on consumer
products to address those hazards, Fise said.
My role over the years has been to get in there and represent
consumers and to ask the really tough questions of the manufacturers.
In many cases, what Im asking is, tell me the rationale for
the test that you have included. And I ask a lot of hard questions
trying to get them to make sure that the test replicates whats
happening in real life, with the size of the user, making sure
that its reasonable, and its not just that they came up with
a test that all manufacturers can meet.
An ASTM standard for bunk beds Fise helped to develop became a
mandatory standard. Thats a case where even though there was
a voluntary standard, it wasnt being complied with, so the government
stepped in and said the issue that this standard coversentrapment
or children strangling in their bunk bedsis so important that
we want all manufacturers to comply with it and if they dont,
it will be a violation of federal law, she said. From the governments
standpoint, the hazard was an unreasonable risk to consumers.
Fise also oversees consumer policy issues of the American National
Standards Institute as vice-counsel of its overarching committee,
the Consumer Interest Council. For the Consumer Federation, she
handles legal issues, advocacy before Congress, and consumer education.
She co-authored The Childwise Catalog: A Consumer Guide to Buying
the Safest and Best Products for Your Children (1986: Harper Perennial)
with Jack Gillis, CFA Public Affairs director. The book is the
basis for online guidance on a long list of childrens products.
Products tested according to ASTM standards meet safety requirements
approved through the consensus of concerned volunteers. In many,
many cases, its voluntary standards that provide the protection
for parents, and all consumers, Fise concluded. //
Copyright 2001, ASTM