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New Office of Product Safety and Standards report ‘falls short’, says Which?

Plans aim to strengthen UK's product safety regime to better protect consumers, but more can be done

The Office of Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) has just published its new strategy, which aims to streamline the process of identifying and dealing with potentially dangerous products. But is enough being done to protect consumers?

As part of the ongoing Which? product safety campaign, we wrote to government ministers back in February demanding a detailed action plan for the newly-formed OPSS.

We’ve since made more specific demands, asking the group to include commitments in its strategy to ensure that manufacturers use fire-proof labelling on all appliances. Doing so ensures that unsafe white goods can be identified and removed from consumers’ homes.

We’re glad to see that a plan to look at new safety solutions related to indelible marking on appliances is included in the new strategy. But what other positives are there in the new report? Keep scrolling for the details.

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What is the Office for Product Safety and Standards?

Set up at the start of the year by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the key goal of the OPSS is to strengthen the UK’s product safety regime. It aims to ‘enhance protections for consumers and the environment and drive increased productivity, growth and business confidence.’

The group’s work covers general non-food products, but doesn’t extend to vehicles, medicines, medical devices or workplace equipment, which are dealt with by other agencies.

What’s in the new OPSS strategy report?

Today, four reports have been published by the OPSS: a strategy, a delivery plan, an Incident Management Plan and a Strategic Research Programme.

Below, we’ve pulled out some of the key points of interest related to faulty goods.

  • Enforcement: The report says that 31% of funding will go to dealing with incidents and enforcement. A national incident management team will be established to tackle product safety incidents.
  • Analyse: The OPSS will use scientific evidence and incident data to identify problem profiles of specific product types. It will build an intelligence picture on industry compliance to identify problem operators. Early priorities include looking at new safety solutions to issues such as indelible marking, durability of products in relation to second hand markets and techniques to improve regulatory compliance.
  • Collaboration: Working alongside primary authorities, the OPSS will strengthen oversight of significant manufacturers, including those producing white goods and electrical goods, along with importers and distributors. It will also work with white goods manufacturers to see that their compliance systems are robust.
  • Reviews: Toy safety and cosmetics regulations will be reviewed from March 2019. There are plans to implement a five-yearly review of the General Product Safety regulations.
  • Consumer information: Data and evidence of how consumers behave in real world situations will be used to design new and effective communication tools.
  • Recalls: Later this year, the OPSS will launch a more comprehensive review of how consumers want to access recall information in order to build a new online database and notification service for consumers.
  • Brexit: The OPSS will transfer all 49 product safety directives into UK law.

The Consumer Protection Act 1987 gives you the right to claim compensation against the producer of a defective product if it has caused damage, death or personal injury. Our Consumer Protection Act guide has more details.

Which? responds

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said:

‘This long-awaited strategy attempts to address key problems in the current safety system. However, it falls short of providing reassurance that it will effectively investigate serious safety issues that are raised about unsafe products, and then actively work to remove them from people’s homes before they cause harm.

‘Up to a million fire-risk Whirlpool-group tumble dryers are still in circulation. If this strategy is to be judged a success, the government should now order a full recall of the affected machines and make this an independent body with real teeth.’

Demanding action on dangerous products

The OPSS will assess the severity of safety incidents and whether or not those cases should be dealt with by the government group or require a multi-agency response.

This is a big win for our campaign, as the OPSS delivers on our call for an action plan and looks to address our concerns around capacity, capability, surveillance and enforcement.

But even so, we still have concerns over whether this will be implemented effectively and result in noticeable positive change. There are still questions on whether or not a depleted Trading Standards will be able to effectively monitor the market and investigate product safety issues where needed.

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