Search Icon White
group of diverse consumers

The Importance of Consumer Voices in Standards Setting: Q&A with R. David Pittle

6/14/2022

A champion for consumer voices in standardization, R. David Pittle, Ph.D., is the former commissioner of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (1973-82); former technical director and senior vice-president, Consumer Reports (1982-2005); and a former faculty member at Carnegie-Mellon University, College of Engineering. He has served on ANSI’s Board of Directors, chaired the Consumer Interest Forum (CIF), represented ANSI on ISO’s Consumer Policy Committee (COPOLCO), and since 2016 served on ANSI’s Executive Standards Council (ExSC) as a standards advisor. 

In this Q&A with ANSI, Dr. Pittle shares his perspective on the need for consumer voices in standards setting, and offers advice to consumers who are considering getting involved for the first time.

How did you first get involved with standards?

R. David Pittle: Since 1970, I have been immersed in researching, developing, implementing, and advocating for the use of safety standards as an effective means of reducing or eliminating unreasonable risks associated with products that consumers use. As a safety regulator at the CPSC and leading the product testing and safety advocacy program at Consumer Reports, I have been at the intersection of choosing how and when to utilize both mandatory standards and voluntary industry standards to protect the public. Having been closely involved with organizations such as ANSI and standards developing organizations like ASTM International and Underwriters Laboratory (UL) for nearly 50 years, I have seen up close which approach works best to reduce deaths and injuries effectively.

What is your current focus at ANSI?

RDP: For the past six years, I have served as a standards advisor on ANSI’s Executive Standards Council with a special focus on clarifying the impact of two essential elements affecting voluntary standards: 1) the important role that consumers play in developing safety standards, and 2) the vital role that participant interest classification plays in the balance of interests within the committee. ANSI’s Essential Requirements and the associated guidance documents recognize both the role that consumers play as key stakeholders and the critical nature of balance within a consensus committee. Balance among a committee’s stakeholders helps prevent dominance by any one interest category, and, in my opinion, is the core underpinning of the consensus process.

Unfortunately, many consumer product safety standards committees lack sufficient consumer participation (sometimes none at all), which negatively affects both the range and depth of input considered by the committee, as well as creating an unacceptable imbalance among the stakeholder categories. Such committees are Iess-informed regarding product-use behavior by consumers, which is an integral part of risk analysis. Moreover, when trade-offs are invariably made to set the level of risk faced by users of the product, the core users—consumers—are not involved. In my opinion, standards created under such adverse conditions are often found to be inadequate to reduce product risks to an acceptable level. This must change.

What efforts are underway to address this problem?

RDP: In addition to the clarifications in the 2022 Essential Requirements, ANSI has taken two steps to increase consumer participation in relevant standards development activities. In 2019 ANSI created a new staff position to serve as a consumer outreach manager, working to encourage consumers to participate in product safety standards development activitiesfrom finding participants to educating them on the value of their involvement.

Second, ANSI, with funding support from five additional founding sponsorsASTM International, IAPMO, NSF International, UL, and the Toy Associationrecently launched a Consumer Participation Fund. ANSI created the fund to help cover the out-of-pocket expenses for consumer participants to attend in-person meetings when they occur. (Specific details on how to apply for funds, what expenses are covered, etc., are outlined on the fund webpage.)

What would you say to consumers who are considering participating on a standards development committee?

RDP: First and foremost, I would say,Thank you for giving this serious thought. You will be rewarded by the satisfaction of helping improve the safety of the marketplace as well as your own family. In addition, I would stress to them: 

  • You need not be a technical expert. Your main contribution—indeed, your unique contribution—will be your experience as a user. You need only to present yourself as a typical consumer, one who will expect to engage with this product. Any additional technical expertise you bring to the table is an extra plus.
  • To the extent possible, you will be matched to a committee that is working on a topic of interest to you. For example, parents and educators may want to participate on a committee setting a safety standard on playground equipment. Or, wood sculptors may enjoy working on a standard for wood cutting equipment. 
  • You have a lot to gain from engaging in the development process. Your opinions will be taken seriously, although they may not prevail on every issue. You will see the consensus process in operation. And, you will have the opportunity to help develop a safety standard that will reduce risks to citizens across the country. 
  • You will also be asked to give a lot as well. With meetings spread out in time, often weeks apart, the process can take many months to complete. This means a long-term commitment is necessary.
  • Consumers will learn a lot from listening to other perspectives being put forward during the discussions. Each stakeholder group has a serious perspective to advance. In the end, compromise may be the way to reach a decision—but on critically important issues, don’t shrink simply to fit. 
  • Out-of-pocket expenses for travel, hotel, and meals may be reimbursed, as per the Consumer Participation Fund guidelines. Since the beginning of the pandemic, many more meetings are held virtually. Ask in advance about reimbursement for attending an in-person meeting.
  • Your participation is voluntary. There is no salary or payment for time spent preparing for or attending meetings. However, a few organizations offer a small honorarium.

Are you an interested consumer and want to learn more about how to get involved? Visit ANSI’s Consumer Affairs Activities webpage or contact Cleo Stamatos, ANSI’s consumer and legislative outreach manager, at [email protected].

CONTACT

Jana Zabinski

Director, Communications and Public Relations

Phone:
212.642.8901

Email:
[email protected]

Beth Goodbaum

Journalist/Communications Specialist

Phone:
212.642.4956

Email:
[email protected]