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FOIA Tips for dealing with the
Consumer Product Safety Commission

by Michael Ravnitzky
St. Paul, MN

Summary: When we complained publicly about our inability to get the info we need from CPSC through the FOIA channel, we got this very helpful response from Michael Ravnitzky.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission [CPSC] is a wealth of information, but you need to know what to ask for. I filed a FOIA request for information on a particular consumer item [sleeping bags] several years ago, and I received a small packet of material. Later I learned the names of their databases, and refiled my request, citing the specific databases. They sent me ten times as much material. Take note.

I'm going to discuss some of the essential databases from which you can draw information on some very interesting topics. Some of those topics are listed at the end of this note.

NEISS - National Electronic Injury Surveillance System

contains vast quantities of occurrences and incidents associated with any of hundreds of consumer products. If you want to see how the information is stored, or to get a complete list of products in the database, ask CPSC for a copy of the NEISS CODING MANUAL. If you know the parametric codes, you can ask them for exactly what you need, which will save you a lot of time in the long run.

Death Certificate File

A database of death certificates (personal names removed) for fatal injuries associated with nearly any product. These can put a human face on the danger you may want to describe.

In Depth Investigation File [INDP]

This file contains lengthy investigations of specific cases associated with nearly any product.

Injury/Potential Injury Incident File [IPII]

This file lists more data on injuries and potential injuries associated with nearly any product you designate.

Regulated Product Comprehensive Plans

These plans are published by CPSC for any product for which regulatory or industry volunteered action is taken. The interesting thing is that Survey Reports are also published by CPSC for any Regulated Product, so you can ask for those also, to see how well the regulation is working. I think that those Survey Reports are extremely interesting.

You can ask for data either on generic products, or on specific brand names.

CPSC also deals with the International Consumer Product Health & Safety Organization [in Switzerland??]. International correspondence, database records and other records on specific potentially dangerous products may be accessible under FOIA through CPSC.

Finally, the Public Safety Bureau in Canada is the northern counterpart to CPSC. I'm not certain, but it is likely that similar types of information are available under the Canadian FOIA laws, although Americans cannot use those laws directly. Canadians, however, can ask for American records under the American FOIA laws.

The address to write to send a FOIA is:

    National Injury Information Clearinghouse
    US Consumer Product Safety Commission
    Washington, DC 20207

Here is a partial list of products in the databases, omitting many sections not related to helmets.


      Children's sports and hobby equipment
      Tricycles (children's)


      Bicycles and accessories
      Hockey, all kinds
      Horseback riding
      Lacrosse, rugby and miscellaneous ball games
      Mountain climbing
      Playground equipment
      Skating, all kinds
      Snow skiing and snowboarding


      Protection devices (eyes, ears, etc.)

Michael Ravnitzky
January 15, 1999

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