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UK to create body to lead new approach to product safety

A new body is to be set up in the UK to lead the country's approach to consumer product safety.22 Jan 2018

The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) will be responsible for product safety for non-food goods, such as 'white' goods, electrical items, toys, clothes and cosmetics, the UK government has said. It will not have responsibilities for product safety in vehicles, medicines, medical devices and workplace equipment as there is already "national capability and regulators" in these areas, it said.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said it would establish a new OPSS in response (14-page / 78KB PDF) to recommendations made by a Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety. The Working Group's recommendations followed on from those made following a review of the recall system published in 2016.

Last week a parliamentary committee called on the government to consider a new central national body for product safety in response to concerns that current oversight of compliance and enforcement does not adequately protect consumers.

In its report the BEIS Committee bemoaned the "fragmented" nature of the UK's product safety regime. It said "several bodies" play a role in providing advice or overseeing compliance and that there is reliance on under-resourced local trading standards teams for enforcement of product safety law. It also criticised the lack of a "systemic approach to recording and analysing incidents related to defective products" in the UK.

In its response to the Working Group report, the government said the new OPSS would provide "dedicated expertise to lead on national product safety challenges" and "support the work of the local authority trading standards teams, and District Councils in Northern Ireland".

"The Office will ensure that UK consumers continue to receive the highest possible levels of protection from unsafe goods, ensure that UK businesses are protected from the unfair competition posed by substandard and unsafe products (including imports) and help give businesses confidence in meeting their responsibilities to supply safe goods," BEIS said.

"It will provide advice and support to ensure manufacturers, importers and retailers meet their responsibilities to place only safe products on the market. It will co-ordinate rapid and effective action when national safety issues arise and give support to local authority trading standards teams and networks, giving them access to the technical and scientific support needed for effective local activity to maximise protection," it said.

In its new role, the OPSS will help to coordinate the response to "national product safety incidents", and help to "swiftly identify emerging issues" through working with local authorities and fire and rescue teams, among others, the government said.

The OPSS will also test products to assess the safety risks they pose and offer "technical and scientific expertise and advice" that will help inform government policy, it said.

Specialist in product liability and recall issues Andrew Masterson of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said recently that any show of energy towards stronger monitoring and enforcement of product safety is to be welcomed.

"A central enforcement body with a remit to handle higher risk general products is an attractive concept," Masterson said. "Some specialist riskier product types like medicines, vehicles and food already have centralised enforcement. However for general products, including electricals, enforcement is spread across local authorities who generally lack the product safety experience and man power to be pro-active."

In its response paper, the government also said it has commissioned the British Standards Institution (BSI) to produce a "Publically Available Specification (PAS) on corrective action and recalls"

The PAS will include "a code of good practice for businesses to ensure effective monitoring, assessment, notification and correction of unsafe products, including through their recall where appropriate", as well as guidance for regulators on "how best to advise businesses in the preparation of corrective action programmes, monitoring incidents and determining and implementing appropriate corrective action programmes", it said.