Who watches out for the consumer (you folks out there) when it comes to products both functioning as expected and designed to not be a source of injury or worse?
In the fire alarm world, we have strict regulations as to how products are designed, manufactured and eventually applied out in the real world. Most of the regulations as to how a piece of fire/life safety equipment is applied in the real word is covered by Codes and Standards written by any number of Engineering Agencies, the most popular of which are the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Industry Associations like the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
The ANSI Standards are used by another series of authorities called the NRTLs or Nationally Recognized Testing Labs. These have familiar names like Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Factory Mutual (FM) and ETL SEMKO (ETL). These Testing Labs use the ANSI and other Standards to monitor how a product is designed, built and tested by the manufacturer to assure that the products leaving the manufacturer's shipping dock are in compliance. This includes not only a properly functioning Fire Alarm that will warn you of the dangers of a fire in your home or office, but also that the product is safe and reasonably reliable and will not cause damage or injury to anyone or anything.
After the product is deemed safe and reliable, it is then subject to the Codes and Standards of the particular industry, in our case, the NFPA Codes as well as the various Country, State, County and Municipal Building Codes that may have been legislated into effect in the area you live in. Rules like, where and how many Smoke Detectors have to be installed in your home to make it "code compliant" are mandated by these Codes and are often voted in as the law of the land mostly at the State level, but occasionally at the municipal level as well. As you move from the private residential sector to the more complex nature of Commercial/Industrial applications, then more Codes issued by the various Agencies involved muddy up the waters and in the end make sure that a building and its occupants are safe no matter what is going on in the building. This may include factions from Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC, Fire and Elevator industries, who all work in harmony to that end.
To this point in a product's lifespan, the regulation is mostly out of your hands. NRTLs sign off on the design and the Engineers and the Fire Department will sign off on the product's installation and application.
Once the product is out there, installed and working, there is an agency that looks out for the unforeseen issues. After the NRTL Lists or Approves a product for public use, the Codes and Standards are applied, the product is installed based on those rules, is tested and approved by the local Fire Department then the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) becomes the one who looks out for failures in the field. Smoke detectors that do not detect smoke, horns that do not sound, control panels that develop glitches and do not perform their appointed processes are all reported to the CPSC and based on a number of variables like frequency of the defect and severity of the defect will work with the manufacturer and may insist on a product recall.
Product recalls should not always be looked at as an indictment of the manufacturer (unless they are a repeat offender) or those Engineers who wrote the original Standards, but it should be looked at as a part of the lifecycle all products go through, in fact, a product that is recalled and is fixed tells us that the process works.
If you are shopping for products, especially for Life Safety Products, it is always advisable to look up the manufacturer on the CSPC site and then armed with this and the other research you have done, you can make a more informed decision on the products that you intend on purchasing for your LifeSafety applications. You may not agree with the laws or the methods in which you are "forced" to comply with these laws, but you can have some say into the quality of the products that you have to buy.
Take advantage of the government's watchdog commission and visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website often: http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/
You'll be a more informed consumer.