Government sets up new product safety watchdog

The Government has launched a new national body to oversee product safety and recalls.

The establishment of the Office for Product Safety and Standards, launched on January 21, comes in response to calls for such a body from the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety, established by former consumer Minister Margot James in October 2016.

The working group was reacting to recommendations made by consumer champion Lynn Faulds Wood in her independent review into product recalls, which was carried out after a number of high-profile fires caused by electrical appliances – some of which resulted in consumer deaths.

The new office, which will be based in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), will be tasked with identifying consumer risks and managing responses to large-scale product recalls and repairs.

It is claimed that it will also enable the UK to meet the evolving challenges of product safety by responding to expanding international trade, the growth in online shopping and the increasing rate of product innovation.

The office will coordinate work across local authorities where action is needed on a national scale and will ensure the UK continues to carry out appropriate border checks on imported products once the UK leaves the EU.

Business Minister Andrew Griffiths said: “The new Office for Product Safety and Standards will strengthen the UK’s already tough product safety regime and will allow consumers to continue to buy, secure in the knowledge there is an effective system in place if products need to be repaired or replaced.

“I thank the working group for their efforts to help improve product safety and I look forward to working with them in this new phase.”

Chair of the working group Neil Gibbins commented: “It has been my mission to make the public safe since I joined the fire service nearly 40 years ago. That’s why I’m pleased to see the Government respond to our recommendations with concrete steps to ensure the safety of consumers, now and in the future.”

The Government will continue to work with stakeholders, such as consumer groups, manufacturers and retailers, to ensure the office coordinates the UK’s product safety regime as effectively as possible.

However, it pointed out that this wouldn’t lessen the legal responsibilities of manufacturers, importers and retailers to present safe products to the market, and to take rapid and effective action when safety issues arise with their products.

Martyn Allen technical director of Electrical Safety First, which has lobbied for improvements to be made to the UK product safety system, has also backed the introduction of the body.

He stated that since 2007 there have been 516 recall notices issued for electrical products in the UK, however only 10-20 per cent of faulty goods are returned or repaired leaving “potentially millions of dangerous electrical goods in people’s homes”.