23rd July 2021

UK to revamp product safety laws – are big changes on the horizon?

Thrings’ solicitor, Joanna Barr considers an imminent overhaul of the UK product safety regime following the National Audit Office’s (NAO) recent report into the effectiveness of the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS). Watch this space!

The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) was originally established in 2018 to beef up regulation around product liability and to work alongside struggling local authority Trading Standards teams (until 2018 consumer product safety regulations were enforced entirely by local Trading Standards services) but the effectiveness of the UK’s product safety regime has been called into question by the NAO’s recent report.

The NAO has highlighted the "major challenges” that the OPSS faces when it comes to regulating safety in a changing marketplace, due to a major shift in people increasingly buying goods online or making and selling products from home – trends that accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have read the report so you don’t have to … but in brief it examines the extent to which the UK’s product safety regime can continue to protect consumers and can keep up with an ever-evolving marketplace.

The OPSS’s focus is on 3 things moving forward:

1. preventing unsafe goods from being purchased in the first place

  • by setting appropriate product requirements and keeping them up to date
  • by ensuring businesses comply with those requirements. An estimated (and huge!) 24% of businesses are unaware of their product safety responsibilities.
  • by influencing consumers to avoid buying unsafe goods (recent research estimates that only 17% of consumers consider safety when purchasing a product (behind factors such as price and ease of purchase))

2. responding to product safety problems

  • by identifying problems as they arise and intervening quickly to address them.

Following the high-profile problems with Whirlpool tumble dryers identified in 2015, the OPSS helped to implement a more robust recall process that considered how to engage with hard to reach consumers. More recently, the OPSS organised a programme of work to respond quickly to product risks presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, it removed more than 550 non-compliant online listings of hand sanitisers and face coverings and prevented more than 3 million items of non-compliant protective equipment from entering the UK.

  • by learning from experience to make future interventions as effective and prompt as possible.

In 2021, the OPSS initiated a national incident response to harm from small, high-powered magnets that join together if swallowed and can require surgery. Such problems had been identified long before the OPSS was established, but it only initiated an intervention process in February 2021, after it had gathered the data to identify it as a nationally significant issue.

3. adapting to new and changing risks

  • including those arising from Brexit and technological developments, with a focus on being more proactive than reactive to changing risks such as from new technologies and trading relationships

The NAO has established a number of recommendations for the OPSS in line with the above focus areas and in response the OPSS released a statement to say: “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”.

Here’s hoping the OPSS works keeps in communication with the industry to ensure its new regulatory framework is effective and clear for the industry to run with, in a rapidly changing marketplace.

If you have any queries relating to product liability advice or claims , please contact Joanna Barr in our Commercial Dispute Resolution team at jbarr@thrings.com.