Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Better Data Collection and Assessment of Consumer Information Efforts Could Help Protect Minority Children

GAO-09-731: Published: Aug 5, 2009. Publicly Released: Aug 5, 2009.

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In 2004, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimated that 29,400 deaths in the United States were related to consumer products. As required under Section 107 of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, this study reviews what is known about the relative incidence of preventable injuries and deaths among minority children associated with products intended for children's use and also examines what actions CPSC has taken through its public information and education initiatives to minimize these injuries and deaths. To address these issues, we assessed injury and death data sources used by CPSC, compared CPSC's consumer education efforts with key practices, and interviewed federal officials and groups representing the health and consumer interests of minority populations.

Few studies have assessed racial and ethnic differences in child death rates from injuries related to consumer products, and CPSC has not analyzed whether specific racial or ethnic groups are disproportionately affected by product hazards because of data limitations. These limitations include incomplete and inconsistent race and ethnicity data on emergency room reports and the inconsistent presence of product-related information on death certificates. In 2007, race and ethnicity data were not coded in about 31 percent of cases in CPSC's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which collects data from a nationally representative sample of hospital emergency rooms. In addition, the hospitals that do record race and ethnicity information in CPSC's NEISS system do so inconsistently, in part because of limited CPSC guidance. While death certificates may include more complete race and ethnicity information compared with nonfatal injury data from hospitals, related product information is not consistently documented on the certificates. Despite this lack of data, CPSC has developed or modified some consumer information efforts to reach specific minority populations, but it has not assessed the results of these efforts. CPSC provides information in Spanish for many of its outreach efforts, including its telephone hotline, Web site, television, radio, and print publications. CPSC has also identified and established relationships with other organizations to help disseminate consumer safety information to minority communities. And while CPSC has used some consumer input to develop safety information, it has not assessed outreach efforts for specific audiences. CPSC has also established goals for its overall consumer information efforts, but not for its messages targeted to specific populations. In addition, CPSC relies on its Neighborhood Safety Network, a group of organizations that have expressed interest in receiving product safety information, to share information with audiences that can be hard to reach, but the agency has not assessed whether these populations are receiving and using the information. Organizations we contacted for this report, including Neighborhood Safety Network members and children's safety groups, generally reported using safety information provided by CPSC, but some offered suggestions for improvement of efforts to reach minority communities, such as providing safety information in other languages and additional exposure through broadcast media.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To better understand the relative risk of product-related injury among minority and nonminority children, the Commission should, in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), develop and implement cost-effective means of improving CPSC's data collection on factors that may contribute to differences in the incidence of injury and death related to specific types of consumer products, including race, ethnicity, and other patient characteristics. For example, steps CPSC could consider include improving the NEISS racial and ethnic classification system; working with NEISS hospitals to improve collection of data on patient race and ethnicity; and leveraging related data collection efforts, such as those sponsored by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics, or the National Institutes of Health.

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, CPSC modified the NEISS data collection software to align with the Office of Management and Budget standards for maintaining, collecting, and presenting federal data on race. The new racial/ethnic classification system went into effect on January 1, 2010. In addition, CPSC began exploring other data sources, including those sponsored by HHS, to determine if it would be feasible to gather consumer product-related death and injury data involving minority children.

    Recommendation: To better understand the relative risk of product-related injury among minority and nonminority children and to improve the effectiveness of consumer information efforts, the Commission should develop and implement cost-effective ways to enhance and assess the likelihood that CPSC's safety messages are received and implemented by all the intended audiences. For example, CPSC could consider convening groups of consumers or Neighborhood Safety Network members to advise on the design and implementation of campaigns targeted to specific communities, surveying NSN members, establishing metrics to measure NSN's success, and evaluating the effectiveness of information campaigns targeted to the racial and ethnic groups at highest risk of drowning as part of its implementation of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, CPSC organized a minority outreach team in 2010 that developed materials and participated in community events in several cities. The events involved direct outreach to the African American, Hispanic, Asian Pacific American, and American Indian communities and focused on four critical safety hazards that affect consumers in the home: safe sleep environment, poison prevention, pool and spa safety, and TV and furniture tip over prevention. These activities were developed using key practices for planning effective education/outreach campaigns, taking into consideration such factors as target audiences, clear messaging, identifying credible messengers, and utilizing a mix of media methods. CPSC also identified the methods they are using to assess the effectiveness in reaching target audiences with its safety messages.

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