The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) introduced its “Regulatory Robot” this month. Touted as a web-based tool to help manufacturers and importers, particularly small businesses, identify the various CPSC rules and regulations that may apply to their products, the Robot is available online to all users. No registration is required. The tool presents a series of questions about the product (e.g., whether the product is a children’s product, wearing apparel, or art material; the age grade for any children’s product; whether the product contains any hazardous substances; whether the product is flammable, etc.). Based on the user’s responses, the Robot report then briefly outlines the rules and regulations that might apply to that product. Prior to the introduction of the tool, a business would need to review the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the other federal statutes that regulate consumer products, and any operative CPSC regulations to identify what rules and regulations apply to a particular product. The Robot does not eliminate the need to understand the actual rules and regulations, but offers businesses a shortcut that will point them toward the most applicable rules and common exceptions.

For example, if a user tells the Robot about an item of painted children’s furniture intended for 6- to 8-year-olds, but indicates that such furniture is not a toy or “child care article,” that the product is not a chair, crib or gate intended for toddlers, and that the product is not a bunk bed, the Robot will report that CPSC requirements regarding the following likely will apply:

  • Sharp points and sharp edges
  • Lead paint/surface coating (including testing)
  • Lead content of product (including testing)
  • Tracking labels
  • Children’s Product Certificate
  • Product registration card

The Robot also provides links to CPSC guidelines, frequently asked questions, webpages, and regulations about each of those CPSC requirements.

One challenge users still face is that the tool is only as accurate as the data entered. If a user indicates that a product lacks paint or a surface coating, the results will not include information about the CPSC’s regulation and required testing of lead-based paint. Or, if a user incorrectly assumes that a product is not a children’s product, a host of requirements such as for tracking labels and lead-content testing, will not be included in the report.

The Regulatory Robot is a respectable attempt by the CPSC to demystify the regulatory landscape for smaller manufacturers and importers. Of course, the Robot is no substitute for careful consideration of the nuanced statutory and regulatory language that form the standard against which the CPSC will hold any consumer product. This point is further underscored by a mandatory user acknowledgment that the manufacturer or importer is ultimately responsible for compliance, that if a user’s input is not accurate, the information conveyed in the Robot’s report may not be complete or accurate, that information may not be current, and that information from the Robot should not “be used as a substitute for advice of competent counsel as to legal requirements.”