In February 2020 Karin Athanas, Women in Standards Executive Officer, attended the 2020 International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO) conference in Orlando, Florida. Each year the ICPHSO conference brings product safety stakeholders together to learn, network and share information and this year was no different.
Hot topics discussed at the 2020 conference included internet of things (IoT), supply chain disruption and risk management, ensuring regulatory compliance, and of note was a panel discussion moderated by Women in Standards Member Priscilla Magee, Consumer Outreach Manager for ANSI, on “Engaging Consumers in Voluntary Standards.” Panel speakers included Brett Horn from Charlie’s House, Joe Musso from Underwriters Laboratories, Inc, and Patty Edwards from CPSC.
The panel included a review of CPSC’s involvement in standards development and the SDOs CPSC works with to enforce consumer product safety, the hurdles consumers and users face in trying to participate in standards development, and a discussion on what steps could be taken to reduce the burden and encourage more involvement.
In a survey of the audience, roughly 53% responded that they hadn’t participated in a standards development activity and only roughly 33% responded that they were members of a standards development committee. All panelists agreed that consumers and users add an important voice to the standards process and UL reiterated that any consumer perspective that they can get is of great value. (Want to learn more about why consumers should participate in standards development? click here)
Hurdles that act to discourage participation by consumers and users include:
- Lack of time and resources – critical discussions and decisions are often made at in person meetings held one or more times a year. Consumers and users often find themselves unable to attend due to lack of funds or vacation time.
- Lack of understanding – the standards development process includes a number of steps that must be learned by all participants including language guidelines, format, and the comment and balloting processes to name a few. Without a strong onboarding process, consumers and users can be at a disadvantage trying to learn the system.
- Lack of community engagement – one panelist noted that committee work needs to be a welcoming experience. When members do not feel ‘seen’ or ‘heard,’ they will be less effective in communicating their unique perspectives.
These same issues were echoed in on-on-one discussions with attendees had throughout the conference, reiterating the need for standards developing organizations (SDOs), the standards community, and regulators to do more to support consumer and user involvement in standards.
In addition to efforts by ANSI to address the issue through outreach with consumer groups, CPSC had this announcement at the event:
Patty Edwards also discussed that the CPSC was in the midst of hiring for a new position, the Consumer Ombudsman. This person will serve as the central liaison for consumers who are interested in CPSC activities, including voluntary standards. Patty hopes this new position will help encourage and facilitate more consumers to be involved in the development of voluntary standards. The selectee for the Consumer Ombudsman is expected be announced sometime in April 2020.