A new federal database that went online this week allows consumers for the first time to view safety complaints that other people have filed against specific products.
Proponents of the database, Saferproducts.gov, contend it will better inform consumers about dangerous products, but some legislators and industry groups say the system doesn't allow enough time to ensure the information is accurate.
The database was launched by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) after Congress told the agency to make its reporting system more transparent. For years, the commission has gathered reports on incidents of injury and death but has generally kept them confidential.
"This is information that has been in the dark, but now the laws have changed," says Scott Wolfson, director of public affairs at CPSC.
The database allows consumers to conduct a search for safety problems with specific products. For example, if you type in "refrigerator," you will get a list of formal recalls and also specific complaints that previous buyers have filed concerning the appliances. By opting for an "advanced search," you can view just the complaints.
On the first day of its launch, April 4, the SaferProducts.gov database listed 18 complaints, eight of them with response comments from the manufacturer in question. The complaints included a light in a refrigerator that would not go off and a curling iron that turned itself on.
One consumer reported that a Whirlpool electric oven automatically switched from bake mode to self-cleaning mode, locked the oven and burned the food inside. The user reported repeating the procedure several times after the oven cooled down and the same malfunction occurred. This item did not include a response from Whirlpool.