What is the Importance of Warning Labels?

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What is the FHSA and why is it needed?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - Among the recalls this week is the recall on a 100% sodium hydroxide drain cleaner produced by Belle Chemical. The recall was not issued due to the fact that it contains sodium hydroxide, nor was the packaging dangerous to children. The product was recalled because the label did not contain the word "poison" was omitted from the hazard statement on the label.

Omission of the word "poison" is in violation of the Federal Hazardous Substance Act (FHSA) labeling requirement, which is the federal law that establishes requirements for labeling of hazardous household products. This law also prohibits the sale of products that are so dangerous that proper labeling is insufficient to protect consumers (15 U.S.C. 1261-1278).

Another set of Belle Chemical products, Sodium Hydroxide, Lye/Caustic Soda and Potassium Hydroxide, and Caustic Potash Ash, were recalled at the same time for similar violations of the FHSA. In addition, they were in violation of the Poison Prevention Packaging Act (PPPA), which requires child-resistant packaging for products that can cause chemical burns or irritation to skin or eyes. Like their sodium hydroxide drain cleaner, consumers are asked to contact the company for replacement labels, and also for free child-resistant packaging.

For those who own this particular product, the recall itself may seem ridiculous. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), "Consumers should immediately store the recalled product in a safe location out of reach of children and contact Belle Chemical for a free replacement label to put on the product." It may seem like a futile measure to hold a company accountable by asking consumers to request a replacement label or new packaging. After all, if people know about the recalls, they've certainly become aware that the product is poisonous simply by reading the recall information. They are probably more likely to take their own cautionary measures than to call the company.

The bigger picture, however, is that manufacturers must be held accountable for properly labeling hazardous products. These recalls are good examples of the checks and balances needed when companies don't comply.

What is the FHSA?

The FHSA was enacted in 1960 and amended a few times through the years. It's primary purpose was to establish a national set of labeling standards for hazardous substances intended for household use. It defines terms like "toxic" and "poison," and outlines when each term must be used and where it should appear on the product. Not only do consumers benefit by being provided with important safety information, but companies benefit because they aren't subject to 50 different state labeling requirements.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission was given authority to enforce the law by using criminal charges and civil penalties, including potentially significant fines. They are also given broad authority to base penalties on factors like the size of the manufacturer and whether or not they knew they were violating the FHSA when they sold improperly labeled products.

In this case, Belle Chemical is a relatively small, family-owned vitamin, supplement, and oil field services company located in Billings, Montana. They may or may not have known about the labeling requirements when their products were created and sold. If they didn't, the recall was an important educational tool. Either way, it is an important tool to keep companies of all sizes in compliance, and to safeguard customers from potential hazards.

For many years, OnderLaw has played a significant role in holding companies accountable when people are injured by their products. From dangerous mini blinds to faulty medical devices and just about everything in between, we and everyone we've represented have been part of the solution when it comes to keeping Americans safer, and in helping to make sure no one else has to suffer the injuries and deaths that our clients have endured.

Recalls issued for labels and packaging in violation of federal law are a critical part of the process. While we take a stand on the consumer side, the federal government also has an obligation to keep us all safe.

If you or your child has been injured by a product that has not provided adequate warnings or safe packaging, contact OnderLaw at 314-963-9000. Together, we can make a difference.

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