Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

NAO: UK product safety system ‘faces challenges’

Out-Law News | 30 Jun 2021 | 10:40 am | 2 min. read

The National Audit Office (NAO) has published a report on the effectiveness of the UK’s product safety regime since the launch of new regulator the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) in 2018.

The report, ‘Protecting consumers from unsafe products’ (52-page / 1.14MB PDF), states the OPSS faces major challenges to keep pace with changes in the market, and that there are gaps in the regulator’s powers over products sold online. It adds that local and national regulation is not well coordinated despite improvements, and that the OPSS does not yet have adequate data and intelligence. 

However, the report finds that the OPSS has made some progress. It has made impactful interventions on national issues, including strengthening high-profile recall processes for household appliances, providing new forms of support for local regulators, and developing new databases to prepare for the UK’s departure from the EU. 

OPSS was launched by the UK government in 2018 to assess product risks that are nationally significant, new or contentious, including overseeing responses to large scale product recalls. It has an annual budget of £14 million.

Harris Jacqueline

Jacqueline Harris

Partner

Products and markets are evolving fast, and so many more people are shopping online – particularly in Covid-19 times – but the product safety strategy is just not there to address that

The office supports local authority Trading Standard teams, which were thought to be struggling with a surge in product innovation, online shopping and international trade. These problems were highlighted when the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 was traced to a faulty fridge freezer. According to the NAO, 3,000 domestic fires a year are caused by faulty appliances.

Jacqueline Harris, expert in product liability at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “The criticism of the OPSS has not come as a surprise. The regulator had already recognised the need for change, and has been taking evidence in the last few months ahead of an anticipated overhaul of the UK product safety regime.”

“There should be a clear strategy to deal with the shift away from the High Street. Products and markets are evolving fast, and so many more people are shopping online – particularly in Covid-19 times – but the strategy is just not there to address that,” Harris said. 

Katie Hancock, who specialises in product liability at Pinsent Masons, said: “Currently under UK law products should be safe when used for the function that were devised, or used in a way that could be reasonably foreseen.”

“It is good that the OPSS recognises the challenges it faces in fulfilling its objectives in a rapidly changing marketplace. It is hoped that the OPSS will maintain a close dialogue with industry as it consults on how to support stakeholders in future, so that initiatives and interventions are effective, proportionate, and evidence-based.”

The OPSS released a statement which said: “We will use the report’s recommendations as we develop a new regulatory framework to protect consumers and ensure businesses understand their legal obligations. The Government’s top priority is to keep people safe which is why OPSS is leading efforts to ensure goods sold in the UK meet some of the strictest safety laws in the world”.