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Testing helmets under CPSIA

Summary: Our take on the October 2008 CPSC meeting on testing requirements under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. This email went to the ASTM F8.53 Shirtsleeves list and to BHSI's contact list of manufacturers and importers of helmets. At the time CPSC posted a page on the meeting with presentations.

CPSC held their meeting yesterday on testing requirements under the new CPSIA act. Some you were there, some others saw it on the webcast with varying degrees of success. I was there, asking questions, and below is what I could get from it--accuracy is suspect!

It was evident in the comments of the CPSC staffers that they are still figuring out how to interpret the legislation, and there are going to be changes going forward in the way they implement the requirements. Staff conversations on the margins of the meeting brought that out even more. They really are not sure yet what the Commissioners will finally approve. Congress set very tight deadlines to address the lead scare, and CPSC is too understaffed to be able to respond as quickly as they want to. They have a page up with some CPSIA info.

For helmets, the advice is split into two categories: adult products and child products.

Adult products

For adult products, the requirements of the CPSC helmet standard do not change. It appears that the only real change will be to add the requirement that each shipment be accompanied by a Certificate of General Conformity. Gib Mullan, head of Compliance and Field Operations for CPSC set out his own personal view of what the Certificate should include:

1. Product covered--specific info and batch identification

2. Each CPSC product safety regulation to which the product is certified.

3. Name, address and phone of the manufacturer certifying compliance of the product.

4. Identification of the US importer certifying compliance.

5. Identification of the private labeler (if any) certifying compliance.

6. Contact info for the person maintaining the test records.

7. Date and place of manufacture (month and year as a minimum)

8. Date and place of testing for compliance.

9. Identification of the third party lab on whose testing the certification depends. Note: third party testing is NOT required for adult helmets yet, but might be in the future. The lab does not certify, the manufacture/importer does.

The above comes from the CPSIA statute, section 14 g. It will be posted on the web by CPSC when they get to it. This is a preliminary indication of what it should contain, but not necessarily the final form.

The certificate has to be in English, and it has to be with every shipment that might be opened by one of the pitifully small number of CPSC port agents (they have 9). To me that means all shipments. Eventually they will figure out how to do this electronically, but for now including it on paper in the shipping container seems like the safest way to know a shipment will be cleared. Mullan mentioned attaching the certificate to an invoice, bill of lading, etc, but is still apparently thinking paper, while customs is now paperless. For now the importer does not have to file a certificate with CPSC, just include it with shipment in case it is opened.

One importer asked about how they were going to handle the logistics of getting the certificate from their company into the container. CPSC had no advice, but it should not be difficult to email the certificate before shipment, and Gib Mullan said it does not have to have a signature on it.

A copy of the certification must be furnished or made available to distributors and retailers. That apparently can mean upon request at least in the case of retailers.

Certifying does not at this time require third party testing. It still requires what the helmet standard has always required--a reasonable testing program. You can find guidance on the page we linked to above.

At the meeting staff said that the type and frequency of tests would be up to the certifying party (usually importer). You could, for example, have the test lab use a more severe test than the standard to be sure that QC problems would never result in a helmet that could not pass the standard. The testing can be done by the manufacturer's lab if the importer is willing to certify on that basis. They suggested keeping the records for at least three years, but some attendees indicated they would keep them longer.

Note that Children's Products DO require third party testing, discussed below. This still all about adult products.

The certificate is required for any product manufactured after November 12, 2008 for adult helmets. It is required for domestically manufactured products as well as imported products, although the discussion yesterday was focused on the import scenario.

Lead standard

I believe that the lead limit that applies to adult products is only the paint and surface coatings limit, not the substrate (total product) limit. The new 600 ppm lead paint content limit comes into effect for adult helmets on February 10 and ratchets downward to 300 ppm and then lower. At each point, product in inventory cannot be sold if it does not meet the lead standard. The lead testing info will have to be included on the certificate, but unless I missed something there is still no legal requirement for third party lead testing. I can't imagine a manufacturer not having it done, however.

Children's Products

Children's helmets would include toddler helmets and any that are targeted for people up to age 12. The CPSC staff confirmed when I asked that toddler helmets are included. I asked about youth helmets and the advice was to treat them as children's products too. They were being cautious, of course, not knowing the details of implementation yet. The definition is "primarily" for use by children, so if a child can theoretically put on an adult helmet it is still not covered if it is clearly not primarily for kids 12 and under.

The definition of a child product is not all spelled out for each product. CPSC will look at the product, size, cost, packaging, marketing pitch, place where the product is sold, etc. If youth helmets are found in Toys R Us with kids who might be 12 or under on the box, I think they would be covered. If it's in an IBD and Lance Armstrong is on the box, maybe not, but the manufacturer would be taking a chance if youth appears on the box.

Children's Products are subject to upcoming limits on lead in paint, lead in the substrate and phthalates. The lead paint limits and the requirement for third party testing for them go into effect in December. Lead in the substrate comes in August of 2009. Phthalate regs are in California's Prop 65, so most manufacturers are taking those out already, but third party test results will be required.

Phthalate limits will apply to any chewable or suckable object--anything with at least one dimension 5mm or less. In addition, they must meet and be tested for all of the substances included in the various US bans on hazardous products, and alphabet soup including CPSC's own rules, FHSA bans and regulations, FHSA labeling rules, FFA standards and PPPA. I don't even know what all of those refer to. In addition, the requirements of ASTM F963-2007 on toys will apply as law. I have not looked at that yet for anything that might apply to helmets.

There was a schedule for when the limits would come into effect that was presented at CPSC's September meeting.

For children's products the law says that the certification has to be based on third party testing. In addition to the lead paint, lead in the substrate and phthalate testing, it also applies to the other provisions of the CPSC helmet standard, including the impact tests, etc. So for the first time an importer will face a legal requirement for third party testing for all toddler helmets and probably youth helmets as well.

Manufacturers will need to use more than one certified lab, unless somebody develops and certifies a combined lead/phthalate/helmet lab.

More on CPSIA