First Steps To Building A Basic Compliance Program


Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting and training symposium with the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO). ICPHSO is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing forums for the exchange of ideas and information on health and safety issues related to consumer products.

While the event featured several training sessions spanning a variety of valuable topics, the overarching theme essentially centered on these primary ideas:

  1. Compliance programs are not an option in today’s regulatory environment.
  2. To survive in today’s regulatory environment, companies need to actively manage and document their compliance processes and procedures.

As I reflected on these points, I realized that while our industry is more aware than ever of the importance of product safety, especially with the launch of PPAI’s Product Safety Awareness program, knowing exactly where to start with implementing the necessary processes and procedures can seem daunting. My hope is to help ease some anxiety with a few basic suggestions intended to aid you in getting a compliance and safety program initiated within your company. Obviously, a robust compliance program takes time and dedication to build. However, the sooner you begin the process, the sooner you can provide your clients with the assurance of brand protection.

A compliance program provides confidence and reassurance in the following ways:

  • Confidence for you when dealing with regulators, recalls and other incidents
  • Confidence for your clients when putting their brand or logo on your products
  • Reassurance in knowing that you can provide answers and provide proof of due diligence in the event of a regulatory incident

Product safety laws provide regulations and requirements that everyone in the supply chain is obligated to follow, so the issue becomes how to comply with these regulations and requirements within your organization.

Document. Document. Document.

The key to any successful compliance program is documentation, and your first defense in preventing product safety issues is having processes and procedures documented and embedded into your daily operations. The processes and procedures you put in place will provide the direction for how your organization conducts its business and serve as the guiding principles for sound decision making in the future.

How detailed these processes and procedures should be is entirely up to you. Do not let it be overwhelming, and do not get overly concerned with the format. Simply understand that your company’s compliance processes and procedures must be documented and actively managed.

Where To Begin

As you begin the documentation process, first define areas of priority, and then determine how you will address them within your organization. Here are some suggested starting points, which can be built upon as your new program evolves into something more robust (these apply to both suppliers and distributors, so for our purposes here, the use of the word supplier is intended to represent anyone from which you procure products):

  1. Code of conduct: Does your organization have a code of conduct? A code of conduct is the tangible presentation of what you are doing to meet the expectations of the end buyer for product safety, social and environmental assurances. Your code of conduct clearly states your organization’s principles. If you don’t already have one, adopt the PPAI Code of Conduct and start using it as your own. Find it at Click on Inside PPAI, then on PPAI Code of Conduct, then on Adopt The Code.
  2. Supplier vetting and approval: Establish a written procedure for how your organization vets its suppliers. Establish requirements for what is required for a supplier to be approved within your organization. This could include  qualifications, factory audits, proof of compliance documents, proof of product liability insurance and raw material verification, to name a few.
  3. Supplier engagement procedure: Determine protocols for how your organization will engage with your approved suppliers. These are based on the order type, order sensitivity, regulatory concerns, client needs, etc. For example, will you work with only select suppliers? Are you prepared to decline an order if the supplier cannot meet the regulations and requirements? How will you handle children’s products and/or products intended for distribution to children? How will you address tracking labels? These are questions that need to be addressed, documented and implemented.
  • Supplier contracts: Develop detailed written contracts for your primary suppliers.  These contracts will serve as the basis for the relationship. Make sure to outline expectations of both parties and leave no room for misinterpretation.
  • Compliance databases: In order to effectively manage this new flow of information, you will need a step-by-step process for obtaining essential documents as well as internal controls for managing these documents.
  • Incident/Recall: Develop step-by-step instructions for how you will handle a defective product, an injury from a defective product or a possible recall situation.  Have a database (even if only an Excel file) of all incidents both reported and non-reported with details and timelines that can be provided to regulators immediately upon request. The details do not need to be overdone, yet should include the most relevant points as to the who, what, when, where and how. In addition, you will need to have a process for storing the necessary supporting documents pertaining to each incident. For additional guidance, the CPSC has developed a recall handbook to provide the guidance needed when handling a recall.
  • Test Reports and Certificates: You will want to establish a process for obtaining, storing and updating test reports and certificates. It is imperative to make sure you understand how to read a test report in order to be certain of its validity. PPAI has a guide for reading test reports available on its website. Also, General Certificates of Conformity (GCC) and Children’s Product Certificates (CPC) are essential documents in any compliance program. Store these in a location that’s easily accessible. If you need assistance with determining which tests are required or what questions to ask your supplier for a specific situation, TurboTest is an online tool available through PPAI’s website to guide you through the process.

As your program evolves, you will add many additional elements. By starting with these guiding suggestions, you will be well on your way to establishing the necessary best practices to not only survive, but thrive within today’s regulatory environment.

Another point to keep in mind is that compliance does not necessarily mean safety. Compliance is merely a license to bring a product to market. And compliance today does not mean compliance tomorrow. Establishing your processes and procedures is only a first step. You must remain vigilant in managing your program. The good news is that once your program is established, the heavy lifting is done and regular maintenance is much less time consuming.

Tim Brown, MAS, is PPAI’s product responsibility manager. Reach him at or at 972-570-3249.

>>The Right Tool For The Job

Remember: You are not alone in this process. PPAI has developed a multitude of tools and suggested best practices to aid you throughout the development of your program. All of the information and tools, including the ones below, are readily available at Click on Inside PPAI and then on Product Safety to access all the resources.

  • Adopt the PPAI Code of Conduct today and start using it as your own. Download a Code of Conduct logo to use on your website, marketing materials and catalogs to visually demonstrate your commitment to social and environmental responsibility. The logo is available in English, Spanish, French and Chinese.
  • Tracking labels are required for all children’s products manufactured one year after enactment of the CPSIA (August 14, 2009) regardless of whether they are domestic or imported products. CPSC representatives say that certificates and tracking labels are where the agency currently sees the most infringement. Make yourself a hard target by stepping up your game now. Read more online about the tracking label requirement and register your tracking labels individually or in batches.
  • What do you need to know about product recalls? Plenty! Put all the information at your fingertips with ready access to the CPSC Recall Handbook located at–Manufacturing/Recall-Guidance.
  • If you don’t know where to start in understanding the rules, regulations and tests that apply to your product, PPAI’s TurboTest™ is a good beginning. It’s an easy-to-use online roadmap that walks you through the process with a series of questions. And it’s free to PPAI members. Find it under the Compliance In A Box tab on PPAI’s product safety web page. –T.B.


An Open Letter On Product Safety

To: Mr. Paul Bellantone, CAE, President/CEO

Promotional Products Association International

You and your staff, together with an ever-changing group of talented volunteers, have done a wonderful job in bringing the focus of product safety to the front page and above the fold of our industry’s  list of newsworthy challenges (Readers Under 30: Please consult someone nearby who still reads a newspaper made from, well, paper). There is still much work to do in this area as our fragmented industry is comprised of suppliers and distributors who look at the product safety landscape from opposite ends of the telescope.

Members who participate in product safety educational efforts—webinars, show week education sessions and the PPAI Product Safety Summit—number in the hundreds when there should be thousands of member companies involved. Why? I think it’s because our industry attracts entrepreneurial people who want to start and run their own small businesses. Our membership reflects that demographic with 74 percent of our supplier members and 95 percent of distributor members reporting less than $1 million in annual revenue. As a small-business operator, I can speak firsthand to the need to “mind the business” and not get distracted by what’s going on in Washington, or any activity for that matter that does not contribute to my revenue or bottom line.

So why am I writing this letter to you? These numbers speak to the difficult job of developing interest in product safety initiatives among the members. Yet we, the membership, need the continuity of you and your staff to bridge the comings and goings of volunteers and remind us that we need to pay attention to product safety on a daily basis. Our industry is vulnerable to the whimsy of political press, and we need solid professional management to carry the message of our concern for selling and imprinting safe products into our marketplace. I think the membership will agree that we don’t need Washington to come in and help us do the job of providing safe products to our marketplace, but then the membership needs to take the responsibility for doing that for ourselves and for our industry. We need the continued resolve of staff management to keep our industry in front of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and let them know of our ongoing efforts to bring awareness to our membership and to advertisers who use our products.

Please continue to make educational and informational sessions such as webinars on product safety requirements for specific products, children’s products safety laws and how to read General Conformity Certificates available to the members. The online tool, TurboTest™, is an easy, efficient and accurate way to quickly find what tests are needed for a specific product. The Product Safety Summit brings the country’s most knowledgeable product safety experts to speak on the issues facing our industry. The effectiveness of your staff in bringing this event together is quite remarkable. Members who choose not to attend the Summit are missing the professional event of the year as distributors and suppliers gather to listen to a group of experts assembled for our education only. And for whatever the reason, networking at the Summit takes on an especially open and honest nature that, quite frankly, doesn’t happen at any other industry event.

While PPAI continues its product safety leadership, I encourage our membership to support our association’s efforts in the following ways:

  1. Attend the product safety educational sessions offered at The PPAI Expo, Expo East and other PPAI events
  2. Register for and participate in the free, monthly webinars on product safety topics from apparel decoration to how to read a test report
  3. Take your product safety knowledge to the next level by attending the PPAI Product Safety Summit, August 13-14, 2014, in Boston, Massachusetts. Get details at
  4. Become the champion for your company to reach Product Safety Aware status as part of PPAI’s Product Safety Awareness program. The four-hour education requirement takes a minimal effort but will boost your company’s confidence in product safety.

I also urge my industry colleagues to contribute to the ongoing conversation of product safety in our industry. With everyone’s efforts, we can continue to enjoy our unique and special profession for years to come.

Safely Yours,

Gary Haley

President, Beacon Promotions Inc., and a member of the PPAI Product Responsibility Advisory Group


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