Recalls in Review: A monthly spotlight on trending regulatory enforcement issues at the CPSC.
The demand for consumer exercise equipment soared over the past year as Americans sought out ways to stay in shape while spending more time at home. As more Americans create their own “home gyms” and purchase exercise equipment such as stationary bikes, treadmills, weights, and resistance bands, we will likely see an increase in the number of injuries typically associated with such products. According to CPSC Spokeswoman Patty Davis, treadmill injuries were already common before the start of the coronavirus pandemic: an estimated 22,500 treadmill-related injuries were treated at emergency rooms in the U.S. in 2019 alone.
Like many other consumer products, the CPSC has regulated exercise equipment at a fairly consistent rate since the 1990s. At least 82 recalls of exercise equipment have been conducted since 2000, with only one slight enforcement “spike” occurring in 2006. Unlike the enforcement spikes we have observed for other products—such as hoverboards in 2016 and essential oils in 2020—the Commission’s recall efforts in 2006 targeted a wide variety of exercise equipment rather than a single product.
Just last month, the CPSC issued a civil penalty of $7.95 Million against Cybex International—which is the largest civil penalty related to exercise equipment to date. According to the settlement agreement, Cybex failed to timely report known defects or risks for two different products after receiving numerous consumer complaints. The CPSC has issued eleven total civil penalties related to exercise equipment. All of the penalties were issued due to the firms’ failure to timely report a known defect or risk to the CPSC. The fines for the remaining ten civil penalties involving exercise equipment are somewhat dated and ranged from $100,000 to $3,000,000.
Exercise equipment recalls have targeted a wide variety of equipment over the years. The most frequently recalled type of equipment is weights-based strength training equipment—ranging from large exercise towers to weightlifting bars to dumbbells. Other frequently recalled types of exercise equipment include mini- and full-sized trampolines, treadmills, elliptical and glider machines, resistance bands and tubes, and exercise or weight benches.
According to information provided by the CPSC recall announcements, approximately forty-one percent of exercise equipment recalls address a fall risk. And this makes sense—many exercise machines and towers are quite large and need to be able to support a user’s body weight without breaking, collapsing, or falling over. Similarly, approximately thirty-five percent of recalls address unspecified injury risks.
A smaller number of the recalls address a risk of laceration (10%), fire (6%), impact injuries (4%), and crushing or amputation (3%). The recalls addressing a risk of fire all involve electrically-powered cardio machines, such as treadmills, ellipticals, and a step climber. Only one recall of exercise equipment conducted since 2000 has addressed a violation of the lead paint standard.
Consumers who keep exercise equipment in their home—or who use such equipment in a gym setting—should stay up to date on product recalls and follow any applicable recall instructions to avoid potential injury. The most common remedy offered by recalling firms is a free replacement product (or relevant product component).
Unlike many other consumer products, exercise equipment can be particularly bulky and difficult to transport in the event of a recall. Accordingly, recalling firms frequently elect to send consumers a repair kit to fix their equipment at home, provide free “on site” repair of the equipment, or simply provide consumers with new instructions and warnings regarding how the product should be operated. Less often, the remedy may be limited to refund or store credit.
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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 no 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 customer 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 though Recalls in Review.
 Melissa Repko, Peleton CEO says child died in treadmill accident, federal consumer watchdog starts probe, CNBC.com (Mar. 19, 2021, 9:49 AM ET), https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/19/peloton-ceo-says-child-died-in-treadmill-accident-federal-consumer-watchdog-starts-probe.html.