The current process for creating voluntary product safety standards has recently been criticized in the media in connection with a debate over whether rare-earth magnets can be adequately regulated through the voluntary standard process in order to protect children from swallowing the magnets. Regardless of opinions about how the process works, the CPSC treats them as a “floor” for consumer safety measures, so manufacturers should incorporate any applicable voluntary standards into safety compliance programs to guarantee compliance. Here’s a refresher on what voluntary standards are and how they are used.

Voluntary Standards: FAQs

What are voluntary standards?

A voluntary consensus safety standard (also known as a “non-government consensus standard”) is a safety standard for consumer products that establishes consumer product safety practices recommended to be followed by product manufacturers, distributors, and sellers. Voluntary standards can provide much-needed consistency and buy-in from industry stakeholders.

Who makes voluntary standards?

Voluntary standards are established by collaboration between industry groups, consumer groups, government agencies, and a private-sector body like ANSI, ASTM International, CSA Group, UL, etc. The CPSC commonly engages in the creation of voluntary standards, and a list of which voluntary standard activities CPSC staff is currently involved in can be found on the CPSC’s website. Summary reports on the status of CPSC’s staff involvement on each of the voluntary standards that CPSC staff is tracking are also available on the CPSC’s website.

Why are voluntary standards important?

While voluntary standards are not a mandatory requirement, product manufacturers, distributors, and sellers should be aware of and comply with voluntary standards for the products they make.  CPSC staff considers the guidance contained in voluntary standards to be a safety floor from which products are designed, and staff representatives have said: “The commission expects all consumer products – including promotional products – to be fully compliant with applicable voluntary standards.”  While voluntary standards are not mandatory laws enforceable by the CPSC in all instances, the agency sometimes enforces them through recalls of noncompliant products.  If no voluntary standard exists, the CPSC still expects companies to consider voluntary standards in place for any similar products.

From a tort liability standpoint, voluntary standards are frequently the basis for expert testimony in court as to what is customary in industry. In products liability, voluntary standards can serve as an important defense to negligence claims, and a failure to use them is customarily used to indicate a manufacturer is not following industry standards.

How should voluntary standards be used?

  1. When designing a consumer product, companies should review voluntary standards available for that product (and any similar products).
  2. Companies should make sure that their product conforms to the standards that exist. The CPSC expects companies to consider the guidance contained in voluntary standards and use the standard as a “floor” for consumer safety measures.
  3. Companies should think through the use or foreseeable misuse of their product’s design and determine if there are additional safety standards that should be put into place above and beyond those included in the voluntary standards.