October 24, 2014

I voted to approve the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in this matter, which proposes to add certain seasonal and decorative lighting products to the Substantial Product Hazard List in part 1120 of the Commission’s rules.  Specifically, the proposal applies to lighting products that are subject to the voluntary standard UL 588 but do not meet its requirements relating to (1) wire size; (2) strain relief; and (3) overcurrent protection.  If the proposal is finalized without change, lighting products that do not meet one or more of these three requirements would be deemed a “substantial product hazard” under section 15 of the Consumer Product Safety Act.  See 15 U.S.C. § 2064(a)(2); id. § 2064(j).  If detected at the ports, such products would be refused admission to the United States; if identified later, such products would be candidates for withdrawal from sale and for recall from the market.

The Commission has years of experience in dealing with defective holiday lighting.  The staff generally considers the three factors mentioned above in determining whether a product is defective and amounts to a substantial product hazard.  If the Commission approves a final rule, the staff will be able to deal with this class of products more efficiently, without shipping products to our laboratory for testing and without conducting repetitive product safety assessments.  The result should be a quicker clearance for products that do comply with the voluntary standard.

Before the Commission can finalize a rule under section 15(j), it must make a determination that each of the key characteristics is “readily observable.”  Id.  To this point, the Commission has not attempted to construct a general interpretation of that language, but has been interpreting it on a case-by-case basis.  In the case of the lighting products, the presence or absence of overcurrent protection – a fuse – can be detected at a glance.  The other two characteristics require more than simple visual inspection.  The wire size cannot be reliably determined by measuring the outside of the wire’s insulation; instead, the wire must be cut so that the size of the metal inside can be measured.  To evaluate the strain relief, the lighting strand must be plugged in and a simple device attached.

While the staff makes the case that these characteristics can be treated as “readily observable,” I want to make sure that we don’t begin to distort that concept.  For that reason, I want to highlight this issue for public comments, not only from manufacturers of the lighting products, but also from those whose products may be affected in the future by the breadth of our interpretation.