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The notion that consumers should actively participate in the administration and enforcement of a federal statute designed to protect them from unreasonable risks of harm is a distinguishing feature of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA). History suggests that when Congress entrusts to a federal agency authority to intrude into the market place on behalf of the general public (or a segment thereof), in a matter of time the agency becomes overly responsive to, or even captive of, the corporate interests subject to regulation. The absence of public-interest pressures- a very raison d'etre for the setting up of the regulatory scheme--tends to make the agency vulnerable to influences from the private sector.

To avoid the development of a "partnership of convenience between the regulator and the regulated," the CPSA provides legal points of access for consumers in the setting and enforcing of product safety standards. In addition, the Act facilitates a free flow of information to consumers, as part of a philosophy of helping consumers help themselves. Basic to this experiment in public participation is the assumption that those for whose benefit the Act was passed have at stake something too important to leave exclusively to the regulators. In this respect, the CPSA shares an approach taken by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which seeks to encourage individual workers and their unions to join in the struggle against job-related illnesses and accidents.

The purpose of this paper is to analyze those sections of the CPSA that invite consumer involvement; to present a brief survey of how the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the independent agency administering the Act, has tried to interact with consumers in the first months of the Commission's existence; and to offer a few speculations on the longer-range prospects for meaningful consumer participation in the work of the Commission.

Publication Citation

2 Hofstra L. Rev. 605-618 (1974)