Government outlines plans for product safety

The Government’s newly-formed Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) has outlined its plans for supporting consumers and businesses.

Established in January, the OPSS was set up to help keep consumers safe and enforce the UK’s safety laws. The strategy it has laid out includes a programme of action to enhance the UK’s ability to identify risks and protect consumers, as well working more closely with manufacturers and retailers.

The measures include:

  • A new national incident management team for product safety incidents, capable of coordinating large-scale product recall and repair programmes;
  • Establishing a new website to support consumers with reliable information and advice about recalled products;
  • Increased support for local authority enforcement teams at ports, borders and points of entry to ensure the safety of goods that are entering the UK;
  • Close working with manufacturers to ensure they are compliant with safety regulations from an earlier stage of the production process;
  • Developing tools and guidance to assist local authorities in improving risk assessments and identifying mistakes before they happen.

Said Consumer Minister Kelly Tolhurst: “Our top priority is keeping the British public safe and we established the Office for Product Safety and Standards in January to play an enhanced role in strengthening our tough and well-respected product safety régime.

“This strategy will fulfil that promise, allowing consumers to buy products with confidence, secure in the knowledge there is a robust and effective system in place to keep people safe and hold companies accountable.

“It will also ensure that the vast majority of businesses that do the right thing and comply with the law are protected from the unfair competition presented by companies that bypass the rules and sell unsafe products.”

Chairman of the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety, Neil Gibbins, said: “I am pleased to see this strategy is designed to lead to the implementation of one of the key steps identified by the group. National capacity to support our locally based trading standards officers is warmly welcomed.”

Phil Buckle, director general of Electrical Safety First
Phil Buckle, Electrical Safety First

The move was also met with enthusiasm by Phil Buckle, chief executive of the consumer protection charity Electrical Safety First (ESF), who said: “We warmly welcomed the launch of the OPSS and we are pleased to see this comprehensive strategy, aimed at both supporting business and – more importantly – protecting the consumer, published.

“One of the key aims of the strategy is a commitment to establish effective partnerships, to maximise impact and enhance product safety. This is evidenced by a major seminar, which Electrical Safety First is co-hosting with the OPSS in September, focusing on the new Code of Practice for recalls (PAS 7100), which was recently published – and the OPSS’s stated aim of working with us in relation to tackling the dangers of second-hand electrical goods.

“However, as a consumer protection charity, we also hope to use our expertise to collaborate with the OPSS in relation to a range of consumer campaigns which raise awareness of electrical risk, particularly around white goods and the need to improve the registration of electrical products. Electrical products present a particular safety risk, as unlike many other consumer goods, faulty, substandard or fake electrical items, can cause significant injuries and fires.”

Mr Buckle added: “It is also heartening to see the OPSS strategy plans to establish a central information hub, which would allow consumers to access reliable information for recalled items – and to receive alerts regarding registered products. Electrical Safety First has long lobbied for such a central resource for consumers, which would allow them to find and be alerted to relevant information simply and easily.

“We also applaud the OPSS’s awareness of the need to respond to technological developments that are changing the way that consumer products are manufactured, distributed and sold. We have undertaken a number of campaigns to raise awareness of the issues of buying online and worked with the electrical retail industry to ensure consumer protection is always a priority.”

Since its formation, the OPSS has been working closely with regulatory bodies such as National Trading Standards, other government departments and manufacturers to upgrade the product safety system.

This has included publishing the world’s first Code of Practice for product safety recalls, which sets out how businesses should recall products, work with manufacturers and retailers to improve labelling and raise consumer awareness, and beginning work, ahead of the EU exit, with Trading Standards at key border checkpoints to strengthen the UK’s ability to stop unsafe products at the border.