The psychology of product safety

Electrical Safety First’s annual product safety conferences bring both trending themes and future issues to the fore – and help ensure the industry is well-prepared for forthcoming changes in consumer behaviour and regulatory policy.

Here, Martyn Allen, Technical Director at Electrical Safety First, provides a ‘taster’ of what November’s conference has in store.

Steve Jobs once said: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back towards the technology – not the other way around.”

This quote pretty much sums up the basis of our forthcoming conference, but while the focus of the event is on the relationship between consumer behaviour and product safety, we will also (inevitably!) be considering the impact of Brexit and the ‘mainstreaming’ of the connected home. So, although the finishing touches are still being put to the agenda, I wanted to give you an idea of what you can expect on the day.

We begin with a keynote presentation that establishes the wider context of our theme – by considering the relationship between psychology, marketing and behavioural insights – and their links to decision-making and safety. It will review how understanding human behaviour can help improve the product design process, especially in designing for safety and reducing potential misuse. And also in helping the messaging and support for product registration and recall response.

The second session of the morning has a panel of experts looking at what we currently know about consumer behaviour, particularly why people fail to register their electrical items or respond to recalls. And how – and why – products can be misused. After a brief break for coffee, we will be asking delegates to ‘think like a consumer’, with a little help from Wendy Middleton, Insights Lead at the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS).

Then, the final panel discussion of the morning will take a look at ‘connecting the consumer’ – and how a joined-up approach amongst manufacturers, retailers and the consumer, is needed to raise awareness of the convenience and safety benefits of a smart home.

After lunch, there will be a keynote address by Kelly Tolhurst MP, Minister for Consumer Affairs and Small Business, who will provide an update on Brexit and an overview of the work of the OPSS.

Then we will announce the winners of Electrical Safety First’s Product Safety Innovation Award. We developed this award because we wanted to acknowledge those companies (or individuals) who are putting safety at the heart of their development process.

This year, we had a particularly interesting range of applications but the short-listed companies are: Spurlock, for a device which allows for safe isolation and immobilisation of electrical equipment; Vodaphone, for a module that lets people know if a product has been recalled; Electrolux for a process of photo registration that allows people to register their product simply and easily via their smart phone; and Paunduit’s Verisafe – which provides enhanced protection in safe isolation, through automated voltage verification.

Once the winner has been announced, they will join Linda McAuley, of BBC Radio, on stage for a ‘fireside chat’, to explain the thinking behind their work. We’ll continue focusing on innovative ideas by then reviewing several case studies. These will illustrate cutting-edge solutions and approaches that put the consumer at the centre of product safety, from design processes to consumer education.

The penultimate conference session is called ‘Ask Me Anything’ where our industry experts (representing all sectors of the product lifecycle) are put on the spot with a range of questions and views from the audience.

Finally, our closing address by Rod Freeman of Cooley LLP – a leading international products lawyer – considers future developments and challenges in the realm of product safety.

This will be our 11th annual product safety conference. Looking back over the last decade, it is clear that the event has a history of identifying issues and establishing debates around crucial issues before they enter the mainstream. So while our overarching themes are certainly topical, many of the discussions and issues arising from the conference are just arising, or hovering on the horizon. But as we know, the current speed of technological development means those changes will be upon us with frightening rapidity. So don’t miss out on the future – we hope to see you there!

Chaired by BBC presenter, Linda McAuley, Electrical Safety First’s annual product safety conference – Think Like a Consumer – Behaviour- led Insights for Safer Products – will be held on 28 November at Church House, Westminster. To find out more about the event, head to