Recalls in Review: A monthly spotlight on trending regulatory enforcement issues at the CPSC.

Extended time spent at home over the past year has encouraged many Americans to update, redecorate, and renovate their living spaces.  As more people choose to “DIY” their home renovations in lieu of hiring professional services, we turn our attention in this Recalls in Review segment to CPSC regulatory actions involving power tools.

The CPSC has regulated power tools at a fairly consistent rate since the 1990s, conducting at least 93 recalls of power tools since 2001.  The recall data reveals small enforcement “spikes” occurring in 2004, 2005, and 2009, followed by a fairly steady recall frequency until 2018.

The Commission has issued four civil penalties relating to power tools.  Three of the penalties were imposed due to the firms’ failure to timely report to the CPSC after receiving information reasonably supporting the conclusion that their product contained a defect which could create a substantial risk of injury to the public, presented an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death, or violated a federal safety standard.  The fines ranged from $100,000 to $800,000.  The most recent civil penalty was for $5.7 million in 2017 for the sale of nearly three thousand units of previously recalled consumer products.

Numerous types of power tools have been recalled over the years.  The most commonly recalled category of power tool are saws, including circular saws, table saws, chain saws, and miter saws.  Nearly all of the saw recalls have been aimed at addressing a risk of laceration or injury.  However, a few saws were recalled due to a risk of electric shock related to exposed or damaged wiring.  Drills and drivers are the next most commonly recalled category of power tools, followed by air compressors, nailers, sanders, and grinders.  Drill recalls typically address problems with the trigger switch, which can pose various injury, shock, and fire hazards.

The hazards addressed by power tool recalls are not surprising.  Thirty percent of all power tool recalls address laceration hazards, twenty-eight percent address fire or burn hazards, and twenty-seven percent address “injury” hazards.  The remaining fifteen percent of the recalls address shock or electrocution hazards.  Perhaps more interesting, over one-third of all power tool recalls since 2001 were conducted despite having no reported incidents involving consumers.

Consumers should keep themselves up to date on power tool recalls and follow instructions for repair or replacement when necessary.  The most common remedy for a power tool recall is free repair of the defective product (or component part).  Less often, the remedy may be limited to receiving a replacement product (or component part), refund, store credit, or new instructions.

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About Recalls in Review: As with all things, but particularly in retail, it is important to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s trending with consumers.  Regulatory enforcement is not different—it can also be subject to pop culture trends and social media fervor.  And this makes sense, as sales increase for a “trending” product, the likelihood of discovering a product defect or common consumer misuse also increases.  Regulators focus on popular products when monitoring the marketplace for safety issues.

As product safety lawyers, we follow the products that are likely targets for regulatory attention.  We share our observations with you through Recalls in Review.