On Monday, CPSC Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle gave her final speech in her current role to a PPAI audience. Her keynote address was a highlight of the PPAI Product Responsibility Summit this week in Alexandria, Virginia. On October 27 her term as acting chairman ends and Commissioner Robert Adler, who was recently elected as vice chairman, and subsequently as acting chairman, will fill the role until a permanent chair is named (see related story in this issue).

Buerkle, who has spoken at Summit numerous times in recent years, said her last speech to the group was bittersweet. “When I think of all the things we’ve done and accomplished, I think the most remarkable aspect of the entire experience has been getting to meet the people on the front lines of product safety, and I consider PPAI and all of you to be right at the top of that list,” she said.

For more than 30 minutes she spoke passionately about the many things accomplished over her past six years at the CPSC, saying her experience there has been one of the most rewarding periods of her career. "It was the right place and right time to do what I was doing,” she noted.

Buerkle went on to explain how the commission established three pillars during that time: education, collaboration and balance.

“I thought we needed to educate consumers and industry. If we could get to the manufacturers sooner about making products safe, it’s better. It’s difficult to have an effective recall, so if we could get back further in the supply chain that would be a good thing,” she said. Among the many accomplishments in this area were education campaigns, a recall app and numerous international and domestic training sessions for manufacturers and consumers.

The second pillar, collaboration, resulted in building relationships with stakeholders to keep lines of communication open, and leveraging the expertise of industries, importers and manufacturers to understand the issues they have. “Having those conversations is key to educating the commission. The experts are the people on the front line,” she said. She also acknowledged that no group has been more influential to her than the families of those injured or killed by furniture tip-overs, lack of pool safety and other product safety accidents. “They have profoundly affected me, and I want to keep anyone from having to go through what they’ve experienced,” she said.

The third pillar is balance and she said it’s been key to her past six years on the commission. “You have to have it in any organization for a reasonable approach to legislation and to avoid unintended consequences.” She added that most companies want to sell safe products because if they don’t, it hurts their brand.

Looking back, Buerkle also said she’s proud to have helped change the tone of the agency from one that industries feared to one that’s collaborative and interactive. “At the end of the day, our goal for products that are safe is the same,” she said.

In addition, she noted the agency’s multi-pronged approach to strengthening its work on consumer education regarding furniture tip-overs, window-covering pull cords and carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators, and succeeding in improving 14 mandatory standards, mainly for children’s products.

As the agency moves forward, she noted the need for it to improve its capability to collect and analyze data in the marketplace and to produce analytics from the data. Following her departure, she also hopes the commission will seek to build on the successes of her tenure. “I sought to build on the success of the previous chairmen and that’s why Bob Adler will be such a good interim acting chairman. There has to be continuity and a smooth transition. I do hope my efforts to put politics aside will continue—that is key to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Safety cannot be political.”

As Buerkle concluded her remarks amid a standing ovation, she expressed what a privilege it was to speak to PPAI and recalled her genuine friendship with the organization. “Last, I want to thank all of you for kindness, help and support during the past six years. We truly have had a friendship and relationship that has made us a success. I thank you for advocacy and concern for the agency and hard work you do to keep the American economy going. I know it will continue because of your integrity and concern.”