Presumed Benefits, Implementation Problems
The CPSC's experience has not been as rosy as the staff's expectations. Stated in terms most favorable to the agency, approximately 70 percent of the woodstoves on the market comply with the CPSC standard—less than the percentage in compliance with the UL standard. Using assumptions least favorable to the agency, compliance may be well below 50 percent.
One reason for this relatively poor performance is that the agency has had trouble reaching many of the small, family-sized businesses that manufacture woodstoves. A more important reason is the loose word-
ing of the CPSC rule. Flexible requirements, while desirable in theory, can be difficult to enforce in reality. Most of the woodstove labeling requirements are purposely open-ended. The commission wanted to appear flexible, and the staff had no desire to decide (and later defend) such matters as the minimum size for lettering on labels or the best way to describe how to pass a flue pipe through a combustible wall. The CPSC had already lost a similar battle in court over proposed warnings for swimming pool slides.
Some firms, in the view of the Enforcement Directorate, are subverting the rule by taking advantage of its vagueness. The rule mandates, for example, that a warning label must be "legible," "conspicuous," and "readily visible." To the CPSC this means understandable; to many manufacturers it means capable of being understood. The difference, something not addressed in the rule, entails how well the information is conveyed. A few firms stamp the warning label into an aluminum plate, for example. The practice does not clearly violate the rule, but, as a staff member in the Enforcement Directorate put it, "I defy anyone to read it." Print size poses a similar problem. The lettering on many labels is small and difficult to read. It is not, however, illegible.
A more widespread problem, at least in relation to the installation manual mandated by the rule, is that firms do not understand what the rule requires. Vagueness can be confusing. Manufacturers are supposed to provide "step-by-step installation instructions." The rule says nothing about how detailed these instructions should be. Practically no firms are providing all of the details deemed appropriate by the Enforcement Directorate. The agency's response provides an ironic conclusion to the tale of its involvement in woodstove safety regulation: after justifying its entry into woodstove safety regulation on the grounds that independent laboratories were not doing an adequate job, the CPSC is now turning to the same labs for assistance in correcting the problems with the agency's rule. The Enforcement Directorate is trying to persuade these labs to ensure a level of detail in installation manuals beyond that specified by the CPSC rule.