International Product Safety

An Interview with Marc Schoem, Executive Director of ICPHSO

 Q. What is the role of ICPHSO and why is it needed? What impact does ICPHSO have internationally?

A. The International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization, or ICPHSO (pronounced ick-fa-so), is a global nonprofit volunteer organization, and our mission is to provide an international, neutral forum for product-safety stakeholders to meet and discuss consumer product-safety issues. We bring together health and safety officials from around the world to facilitate product-safety training, education, and networking in a neutral forum. This has always been our purpose. We’re international because we believe that what’s safe in one place is safe in another, and our global stakeholders come together to discuss issues, share information about hazards, and communicate. 

ICPHSO members work on consumer product safety. They represent government agencies worldwide, manufacturers, importers, retailers, trade associations, certification/testing laboratories, law firms, consultants, academia, health educators, standards-writing organizations, media, consumer- and parent-advocacy groups, and others in the consumer product-safety community. 

We have partnered with global regulatory agencies and individual organizations to bring our product safety training, education, and networking to Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Ireland, Belgium, China, Japan, South Korea, and elsewhere to ensure our activities continue to include an international audience and focus. 

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We have also partnered with ASTM International’s committee on consumer products (F15) on several information and education programs, including sessions on voluntary standards, poison-prevention packaging requirements, and age grading and the appeal of certain products to children.

Q. How does your annual meeting and training symposium advance consumer product health and safety?

A. ICPHSO’s annual symposium, held at the end of February, is our premier training and networking conference. (We also hold at least two other major events each year.) This event gives our global health and safety professionals the opportunity to be part of discussions that enhance the safety of consumer products manufactured, distributed, sold, and used throughout the world.

We want constructive conversation, and for us, success is about being approachable no matter what your perspective or position is. ICPHSO has torn down barriers between “us” and “them,” whoever us and them may be. 

The annual symposium attests to that. All our programs provide our members and attendees an opportunity to meet, learn, and network with a diverse group of stakeholders responsible for consumer product safety.

For example, when the U.S. Congress enacted the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act [CPSIA], it was a new day for everyone, and ICPHSO gave everyone the opportunity to be more informed about what was coming because of the Act.

Through their attendance at the annual symposium, product-safety professionals can experience cutting-edge sessions; network with hundreds of professionals from all product-safety segments to learn about strategies and solutions to today’s product-safety concerns; and gain a better understanding of how to best prepare for the future in product safety. Our symposium also features various goods and services being provided by members of the product-safety community that can assist attendees in fulfilling their day-to-day responsibilities related to consumer product safety.

Our annual meeting and symposium generally feature four days of interactive sessions led by dozens of key product-safety professionals. This past February, we had about 850 attendees. One highlight of each annual meeting is a dedicated session featuring regulators from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has jurisdiction over consumer products in the United States. Regulators typically present updated and often late-breaking information relevant to the safety of consumer products used globally. During our annual meeting, we also include information from other North American regulators as well as regulators worldwide, such as from the European Union, Australia, and South Korea, among many others.

Q. How do you view the connection between voluntary consensus standards and consumer product safety?

A. While ICPHSO doesn’t take a particular stand or point of view, we offer all product-safety stakeholders the opportunity to meet and discuss issues such as the connection between voluntary consensus standards and consumer product safety.

Even on standards, we at ICPHSO do not take a position. If that’s the way to get to an additional level of safety, our stakeholders may decide that’s important.

During the past few years, this connection has been widely discussed at our annual meeting. Many stakeholders look forward to discussing this as well as hearing the different perspectives in the product-safety community about the connection of voluntary consensus standards to product safety.

Q. With the growth of the internet of things (IoT) in recent years, how important is connected product safety in today’s world?

A. ICPHSO’s strength and success as a health and safety organization is directly related to its ability to recognize global emerging consumer product-safety issues and present them during our conferences. As a result, stakeholders can hear early on about these issues, from global safety professionals who may have already addressed the issue with some best practices. 

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IoT is one such area that has been the focus of many ICPHSO panel discussions over the past few years. Leading safety experts from all areas have discussed the need to address this issue, and it will continue as a point of discussion. Rather than facing these issues alone, ICPHSO stakeholders can hear from those who may be dealing with an issue and can offer solutions to address a specific risk. 

Having all stakeholders involved with consumer product safety at our conferences helps address the need for possible future action involving standards and/or specific regulatory requirements. Stakeholders can hear about options and take that information back to their respective organizations to come up with a plan of action. We are pleased to be able to provide a forum where these discussions and ideas can be shared among all.

Q. What do you see as the role of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in advancing product safety?

A. CPSC is recognized as the independent U.S. federal agency responsible for protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death from the products within their jurisdiction. As such, CPSC has always taken a leadership role in product safety. (Note, I am a former longtime CPSC staffer.)

ICPHSO is pleased to provide CPSC staff and other global regulators with the opportunity to provide training and  education, as well as interaction with the consumer product-safety community, recognizing ICPHSO’s ability to host hundreds of product-safety and health professionals from around the globe at our conferences. These forums, when used by regulators, can reach many different stakeholders and provide the guidance and training needed to meet requirements all in one location, potentially affecting millions of consumer products produced, imported, and sold throughout the world. The ability to share global information among regulators adds numerous benefits in addressing emerging product safety issues. ■

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