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A recent spate of very serious incidents, including the Shepherd’s Bush Tower Fire on 19 August 2016 and the Grenfell Tower Fire on 14 June 2017, have been linked to faulty domestic appliances.  These incidents have led to questions being asked about the UK’s product safety regime. Various groups have called for the current regulatory and enforcement system to be strengthened.

A “Working Group on Product Recall and Safety” was established in October 2016 by former Consumer Minister Margot James, shortly after the Shepherd’s Bush Fire. A group of product and fire safety experts was brought together to build on the recommendations made by Lynn Faulds Wood in her independent review on UK Consumer Product recall, published in February 2016.  The Working Group published its full report on 19 July 2017. This was followed, on 16 January 2018, by a report by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee on “The Safety of Electrical Goods in the UK”.

On 21 January 2018, as part of the Government’s response to the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety, the Business Minister Andrew Griffiths announced the creation of the Office for Product Safety and Standards [the “OPSS”). He 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 that there is an effective system in place if products need to be repaired or replaced.

The overriding aim of the OPSS is to help the UK 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 new Office is part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and will have a budget of around £12 million per year when fully operational.

On its website, the new OPSS describes its responsibility as follows:

We work at the front line with businesses, local and national regulators and consumers to improve regulatory protections and support compliant businesses.

The OPSS will provide specialist services centrally to support consistent national enforcement, including aspects of product testing and technical expertise. Specifically, its responsibilities will cover general (non-food) consumer product safety, including: 

  • National Capacity for Product Safety and Technical Regulation
  • Policy Development – Product Safety, Metrology and Regulatory Delivery
  • Primary Authority
  • Industrial Strategy commitments to local better regulation
  • Technical regulation on behalf of government
  • Approval of types of utility meters and provision for accuracy testing
  • EU Exit preparation for technical regulation
  • International regulatory delivery
  • NMO Technical Services
  • Standards and accreditation policy
  • Business insights through our Business Reference Panel and others
  • Sponsorship of British Hallmarking Council

However, the remit of the OPSS does not cover construction products, vehicles, medicines and medical devices, or workplace equipment, which are already covered by other agencies.

It is envisaged that in addition to providing support and advice for local authority Trading Standards teams, the OPSS will co-ordinate 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.

It is important to note that there are no changes to the roles and responsibilities of local authorities or other market surveillance authorities. Crucially, the creation of the new OPSS will not lessen any of the legal responsibilities of manufacturers, importers and retailers to present safe products to the market, and to take rapid effective action when safety issues arise with their products.

A Library briefing paper on “Product safety and recall” (CBP 8211) (dated 15 February 2018) provides an overview of the current product safety regime in the UK.

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