As recently reported by Los Angeles Times reporter David Lazarus, regulators may know about safety issues, but getting information out of them is difficult. In 2006, Mega Brands, Inc. took over Rose Art Industries. One product acquired was Magnetix play sets, containing powerful magnets that could tear apart a child’s intestines, if swallowed. After a child died after ingesting magnets from the play set, a subsequent lawsuit resulted in Rose Art Industries and Mega Brands fighting over who was at fault for not determining the safety of the product.
"Regardless of which side is telling the truth, the bottom line is that it should be easier for interested parties to find out whether there are safety issues with a firm’s products.
It’s not clear whether Mega Brands sought to independently check out Rose Art’s safety track record by getting in touch with the Consumer Product Safety Commission; neither the company nor the commission kept full records of every contact.
But even if the firm had made a point of seeking federal safety data, Mega Brands would have had a tough time prying information from the commission.
It turns out that a company or consumer can’t just call up and ask the agency to search its database for a specific product or manufacturer. Rather, a request would have to be filed under the Freedom of Information Act and months could pass before a response might be offered.
Joe Martyak, the commission’s chief of staff, acknowledged that this isn’t the most efficient way of providing access to the agency’s vast storehouse of safety data. "Our databases aren’t set up for doing it any other way," he said."
Such incidents highlight the need for a system to allow for timely access to government data regarding safety issues.