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Problems with the amended consumer products safety law December 19, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in crime, Economy & Business, Japan.
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Following a rash of publicised incidents where products have failed in the field causing deaths and injuries, an amendment to the consumer products safety law has become law as of the 6th of December. The law requires reporting of all “serious” accidents within 10 days.

The problem with this law is that a serious accident is defined as an accident where death, injury (includes CO poisoning – has the Paloma and Matsushita incidents in mind) has to take place before companies are obliged file a report under the new guidelines.

Basically, unless physical injury or death has not occured, reporting is not required. This is exactly the situation which occured with the Sanyo/Mitsubishi Electric/NTT DoCoMo battery overheating incident, where the companies were aware of multiple cases of overheating batteries months ago but none of the 3 concerned parties publicised the problem until another overheating battery caused a physical injury in November.

The law should have been drafted to say (IMO) that serious accidents are accidents where death or physical injury are foreseeable consequences of an accident of a similar nature, caused by the same failure mode which is due to a manufacturing/design/lack of correct usage directions/warnings (all of which the company is rightly responsible for).

Decent corporations require reporting of “near-miss” incidents specifically because awareness of such incidents and addressing of same is a good way to prevent an accident where physical harm does arise. Such reporting does not prevent the injury or death of the person(s) involved in the accident for which the report is compiled. Is one death or injury a suitable threshold against which manufacturers and service providers should be held accountable? Personally I think the parties should be held to a stricter set of guidelines. A battery which may spontaneously explode or ignite sure seems to pose a foreseeable likelihood of death or injury in my book.

I don’t want to give an excuse to further swell the already bloated ranks of bureaucrats (and quangos employ retired bureaucrats). So a law which forces manufacturers and other parties to have a system in place to monitor near-miss accidents and deal with them in a objectively appropriate manner would seem to be a suitable middle ground.

Clearly, if a stupid individual sticks a knife in their ear canal or some other orifice, a company should not be liable (unless they were marketing their products to children as toys)….

Of course, decent companies probably do have reporting requirements in place. But with the list of companies who have a less than enthusiastic stance towards issuing mea culpas including some of the biggest names in Japanese industry, I cannot be comfortable with laws which continue to be drafted with the implicit assumption that human nature (and especially corporate nature) is fundamentally good.

The penalties are also laughable. 1 year imprisonment or JPY1M fine. I’m sure corporations are so worried about a $9,000 fine or a suspended sentence (if that) for its officers.

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1. Japan Probe -Japan News & Culture Blog » Blog Archive » News for December 20, 2006 - December 20, 2006

[…] -A discussion of problems with a new ammendment to the consumer products safety law, which requires that companies report all “serious” accidents involving their products within 10 days. […]


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