An Act that sets higher standards for the safety of consumer products and gives the federal government more power to monitor and respond to safety incidents is now law, and has a significant impact on the Canadian electrical and electronics industries.
The Canada Consumer Products Safety Act (CCPSA) is designed to better protect the health and safety of Canadians by increasing the obligations of industry when it comes to reporting incidents that adversely affect human health, maintaining records and sharing them with the government, labeling products accurately, and avoiding manufacturing, importing, selling or advertising specific products that carry safety risks. The Health Canada act, came into force on June 20, 2011, gives the government greater authority when it comes to taking corrective action, such as issuing product recalls or stop-production orders, to address safety incidents.
“The Ministry of Health will have the power to demand mandatory recalls, order tests and studies, do inspections, stop sales, quarantine products and so on, so this Act is quite extensive in terms of the obligations for industry, and we need to pay very careful attention to it,” says Larry Moore, Vice President of Canadian Appliance Manufacturers Association (CAMA), a council of Electro-Federation Canada (EFC).
First introduced in April 2008 as Bill C-52, then C-6 and finally C-36, CCPSA modernizes 40-year-old legislation, ensuring Canada’s consumer product safety laws are better suited to deal with the realities of global trade, new product technologies, more complex materials, speedier production processes, and counterfeit products. It’s safe to assume that various consumer product safety incidents in Canada, such as those involving foods contaminated with listeriosis, tainted pet food, defective cribs and toys, and concerns about the toxicity of the compound Bisphenol A, also helped spur the development of the new Act. Replacing Part 1 of the outdated Hazardous Products Act, CCPSA will alignCanada’s laws in this area with those in place around the world, which will allow for the more efficient conduct of international business.
“With this Act,Canadais actually catching up to rest of world. Most countries have more stringent product safety laws in place, and there are mandatory reporting obligations in theU.S.,Australiaand in countries in Europe,” says Maria Iafano, Director of Legislative Policy & Government Affairs at the Electrical Safety Authority, which enforces public electrical safety laws inOntario. The ESA is collaborating with Health Canada to create consistency between provincial and federal protocols in this area.
“There have always been logistical and financial challenges in dealing with different rules in different provinces. There’s a need for national electrical safety so that it’s easier to do business,” says Wayne Edwards, Vice President of Sustainability & Electrical Safety at EFC.
However, concerns have been raised by industry about the vagueness of the CCPSA in its current form, the burden it may place on companies and their ability to comply, and the increased scope of government power. While manufacturers, distributors, retailers and business associations were consulted for input during the development of the Act, some say its sweeping nature may create an unbalanced approach to consumer safety.
A key element of the Act is that industry will have to report any occurrences, defects or inadequate labels or instructions related to one of their consumer products that resulted, or could reasonably be expected to result in death or serious adverse health effects. As well, companies will also have to alert the government of any product recalls or other corrective measures it has taken for human health or safety reasons.
Still to be worked out by government are the “hows” of this requirement, including the criteria to be used to determine whether an incident has caused a genuine risk to human health, the time frame for reporting such an incident or defect upon its discovery, and the specific conditions under which the government would see fit to take actions such as issuing recalls or stopping the production or sale of products.
“We are very much in favour of mandatory reporting, since it’s anchored to the notion of taking remedial action when there has been serious injury or death. The challenge is to ensure that the policies and guidelines make it clear that there needs to be information that reasonably supports the conclusion that a product presents a substantial hazard to determine that there has been an incident,”Moore says.
He continues, “Failure to address this challenge would trigger a vast amount of incident reporting that would be counterproductive to the objective of quick response, could unnecessarily concern consumers if made public, and would be a significant and unnecessary burden to businesses.”
On behalf of EFC, Mooreassumed a leadership role in the creation of the Canadian Consumer Product Safety Coalition (CCPSC) and has remained actively engaged since its inception. CCPSC has evolved into a group of 12 national business associations that supports CCPSA’s principles of active prevention, targeted oversight and rapid response, and is lobbying the federal government to ensure it sufficiently considers industry’s interests and abilities to comply. The coalition has presented its viewpoints and ideas on the CCPSA to House of Commons and Senate committees, representatives of Ministers’ offices, members of parliament and opposition health critics. The coalition has also coordinated submissions to HealthCanadaand issued written statements during hearings on the legislation.
Working withMoorein the CCPSC is Chair, Ralph Suppa, President and General Manager at the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating, who along with the coalition is extremely concerned about the ability of small- and medium-sized businesses to comply with the new reporting protocols. “Big companies already have the infrastructure and staff to deal with this kind of compliance. It’s when you get into the little retail outlets with fewer resources and less manpower that it can become a problem. Overall, we’re talking millions of dollars in costs,” Suppa says.
Another potential problem that could arise from mandatory reporting, Suppa says, is the way in which sensitive business information will be handled.
“The amount of paperwork Health Canada will receive and have to filter through will be massive – they will have to ensure they’re reviewing the data properly and confidentially, and do their due diligence with a proper investigation before making any information public,” Suppa says.
CCPSA also raises expectations for the record-keeping practices of companies, so that documents are easier to review for information related to safety incidents. The legislation contains stipulations on what kinds of documents industry should store and for how long, with a particular focus on records of the source and destination of consumer products. In the event of a safety incident, HealthCanadamay request this information to trace products through their supply chain to their origin.
“Undertaking a recall or any corrective action should be linked to the root cause. Going back to what caused the incident itself can help eradicate the problem from the system and prevent it from reoccurring in other products,” Iafano says.
Other requirements for companies under CCPSA include obtaining safety information, e.g. studies or tests, that indicate whether a consumer product meets CCPSA requirements; observing certain prohibitions when it comes to manufacturing, importing, selling and advertising products that could be unreasonably dangerous to Canadians’ health and safety; and, avoiding packaging, labeling and advertising tactics that are false, misleading or deceptive with regards to product safety. Companies that don’t comply with the Act’s requirements can be fined up to $5 million. Manufacturers, distributors, importers and retailers wanting to learn more about the specifics of CCPSA and receive industry updates can do so at www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/legislation/acts-lois/ccpsa-lcspc/indust/index-eng.php, or can follow a link on this page to register for e-mail updates on the act.
To prepare for the coming into force of CCPSA this June, electrical and electronics manufacturers would be wise to create or update existing internal reporting systems that identify who should be responsible for reporting, and include a system for monitoring alleged incidents. As well, companies should review their mechanisms for retaining documents, and establish internal protocols for responding to inspectors or Health Canada inquiries.
Health Canada has said it will continue to work closely with industry to streamline new requirements and to ensure that any additional responsibilities are proportionate to risk. Likewise, the CCPSC will continue sharing its best practice ideas with government and advocating for the act to not be overly onerous on industry, so that companies will be able to comply.
Says Moore: “We support the principles of the Act, but it will be a massive undertaking with significant costs for all industries to meet its requirements, in particular, the reporting system requirements. We’ll keep working with the federal government and provide input on CCPSA policies, because the job is far from done.”
To view EFC’s submission to Health Canada on CCPSA’s reporting guidelines, visit http://www.cama-online.ca/cama-focus/public.
Written by professional freelance writer Sharon Aschaiek (firstname.lastname@example.org). Sharon writes about a wide range of subjects for trade and consumer publications.