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issue: October 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

Guest Editorial
AHAM Focusing on the Future


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by Liston P. Durden, chairman, board of directors, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturer’s (AHAM) and senior vice president of Marketing, Viking Range Corp.

Having always believed strongly in the value of AHAM as our industry’s national trade association, it is an honor to serve as chairman of the board of directors for the next 2 years. My time spent as chairman of AHAM’s Major Appliance Division Board reinforced my belief of how important it is to our industry and our customers that we give priority to addressing industry-wide issues.

Just as is the case with individual appliance producers, a key challenge of AHAM is to keep a strategic focus on its purpose while continuing to fight the good fight on current problems. In this regard, the Board has begun the process of updating AHAM’s strategic plan, which has been so important in framing the success we have achieved over the past 5 years. Even as we go through this process, it is possible to share with you some emerging challenges appliance producers are collectively taking on through AHAM right now.

One of the greatest values provided by AHAM is its role in the development of product performance standards. AHAM standards, perhaps better described as performance test procedures, provide benchmarks for home appliances. These benchmarks have proven to be valuable to manufacturers, retailers, consumers, and governments. As innovation and technology provide new opportunities and excitement for the growing home appliance market, these standards should keep pace. An added challenge is for standards to maintain relevance in an industry and market that becomes more global each year. And, of course, we must develop a consensus among competitors on common rating tools that stand up to technical scrutiny and peer review. AHAM is currently taking on this challenge in two important product areas.

An AHAM Task Force is now in the process of revising AHAM Standard HLW-1-2001, Performance Evaluation Procedure for Household Washers, to ensure that it is relevant to current technology and usage requirements. Issues receiving scrutiny include gentleness of action testing, soil/stain removal testing, test detergents, and composition of test loads. The standard will also take into account methods, materials, and test features included in international standards such as IEC 60456. To expedite the development of these updates to the standard, a series of round-robin tests in multiple laboratories are being conducted to fully understand the new test parameters. It is our hope that an updated test procedure can be completed by the end of the year.

At the same time the industry is updating AHAM’s standard for residential clothes washers, we are also working to ensure that the current revision process for the IEC performance and safety standards are globally representative. Also, in a product category near and dear to my heart, AHAM is also exploring a uniform method for determining volume measurements of all ovens, including gas, electric, and microwave.

On the regulatory front, following discussions at the Annual AHAM Meeting earlier this year on the need to reform the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s product safety reporting guidelines, AHAM recently presented specific recommendations to Commission Chairman Hal Stratton during an open forum. AHAM’s goal has always been to maintain and improve product safety and consumer protection, while minimizing regulatory burdens and providing clarity and transparency for the regulated community. We believe the Section 15 guidelines are so broad and vague that similar fact patterns can elicit different responses as to whether a report must be filed, corrective action taken, or whether late filing penalties are appropriate. Perfectly reasonable decisions by product manufacturers in real time can be subsequently closely second-guessed with the benefit of hindsight and greater information and become the subject of public condemnation and penalties without any evidence that greater consumer safety is achieved.

Simply put, what we seek is a timely reported, corrective action and penalties regimen that is predictable, fair, and effective and that will allow companies to understand when they should act and what will be the reaction of the Commission. A fair system will focus on real safety issues and not 20/20 hindsight of what somebody might have done. We need a system that encourages substantial internal corporate review, even if the eventual result of that review might turn out to be incorrect in light of hindsight, and one that focuses on “substantial” hazards. More important, an effective system motivates early monitoring and action on safety from design to production to consumer use. It remains to be seen whether these reforms can be instituted, but it is certain that AHAM will continue to advocate for a common sense approach to this process.

The term Extended Producer Responsibility encompasses the emerging issue of product recycling or manufacturer “takeback” requirements. Regulations are nearing the mandatory stage in Europe and include appliances. In Ontario, Canada the focus is now on product packaging, but will soon turn to products, most likely starting with electronics. Similar efforts are underway in Japan and Australia as well. The objective is to require the manufacturer to be responsible for the product’s ultimate disposal or destruction. To guarantee that future policies impacting home appliances are grounded in the facts, AHAM is undertaking a number of research studies to properly characterize the recycling rates of home appliances. We will also work to inform policy makers that while manufacturers have a role to play, there is a public cost as well. Our work is being guided by an interdivisional task force and is being closely coordinated with our counterpart organization in Canada, the Canadian Appliance Manufacturers Association.

In each of these important areas of cooperative work lies value for the AHAM membership, its customers, and the public. AHAM looks forward to continuing to play a part in this important mission.

 

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