FOIA Tips for dealing with the
by Michael Ravnitzky
Consumer Product Safety Commission
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.
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.
NEISS - National Electronic Injury Surveillance System
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.
Death Certificate File
This file contains lengthy investigations of specific
cases associated with nearly any product.
In Depth Investigation File [INDP]
This file lists more data on injuries and
potential injuries associated with nearly any product you designate.
Injury/Potential Injury Incident File [IPII]
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
Regulated Product Comprehensive Plans
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.
January 15, 1999