Why You Should Pay Attention to Product Recalls

Certain Viking Range dishwashers can be a fire hazard. A particular type of Office Depot Brand desk chairs can collapse when you go to sit in them. Todson's Topeak Babyseat II can amputate childrens' fingertips. What do these problem products have to do with each other? The Consumer Product Safety Commission --in cooperation with the companies--has recalled all three just since the beginning of April.

Recalls typically only make it into the mainstream news media if the potential injury is grave or the number of products on the market is vast. Fortunately, you don't have to wait for somebody like me to alert you to these potential dangers. The CPSC offers an email alert service, here. Sign up and the agency will send you its recall information directly.

It's an amazingly citizen-friendly service coming from the Federal bureaucracy. The sheer number of product recalls is remarkable –twenty in March, for example. The best part of the email service is that you can customize the alerts you receive so you won't be inundated with information you don't need. Categories include children's products, sports products, outdoor products, household products and more.

You should also know about the agency's searchable database of past recalls. Say you've just had a problem with a product you own. Want to know if it's a fluke or a pattern? You can search the database by manufacturer name, type of product, type of hazard and more. This could also be valuable if you are considering buying a used item from a garage sale, eBay or Craigslist.

But wait, there's more! Starting just over a year ago, Congress allowed the nation's product watchdog to include products in its database that people have had trouble with but that HAVEN"T been recalled –yet. It can take months or years for a product to be recalled as complaints trickle in and the agency establishes whether there truly is something faulty about the product. During this uncertain time period, you or your family could get injured by a problem product that's still on the market.

That's why I encourage you to use the database to do a quick search before you make any major purchases. Of course, it doesn't make sense to go to this extra trouble for small, everyday purchases. But it's a smart move anytime you're buying something with obvious hazard potential like a crib, lawnmower or scooter. The search takes less than five minutes.

And finally, there's one more CPSC offering I urge you to participate in. Not only can you look up other people's complaints on the agency's SaferProducts.gov website, you can report incidents of your own. Reporting fires, cuts, collapses, shocks and so on is a valuable service to your fellow citizens. And the bureaucrats really do rely on reports like yours to take action. Your report could be the initial clue that leads to a product recall that saves lives.

Which brings me to my final point: if a product you own is recalled, take the time to pursue the remedies offered by the company. Sometimes they give a full refund. Other times they will send you a repair kit that addresses the problem. At the very least, throw the product out. (Don't' sell it at a garage sale and pass on the risk!) A frustratingly high percentage of recalled products are never returned or repaired. Either people never hear about the recall or they fail to act on it. Now you have several simple tools so that you can be in the know and ready to act.