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Government unveils action plan on unsafe products

The government’s Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) today released details on how they plan to bolster product safety. But will it be enough?

The government today unveiled their national plan for tackling unsafe products – and it’s a big step in the right direction.

The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) finally released their action plan on how to build a national capacity for product safety, thanks in no small part to the nearly 100,000 supporters of our end dangerous products campaign.

End dangerous products – sign our petition and take a stand.

Under the plan, the OPSS will take over coordinating product safety nationally – but local Trading Standards will remain the Primary Authorities.

This is a big win for our campaign and our call for a more integrated approach to surveillance and enforcement of product safety.

What’s the plan?

The OPSS report promised 31% of funding will go to dealing with incidents and enforcement and a national incident management team will be established to tackle product safety incidents.

Under the strategy, the OPSS will use incident data and scientific evidence to identify problems with specific product types.

From this, it will build intelligence on industry compliance in an attempt to identify problem operators.

The report says the OPSS will develop oversight of significant manufacturers and importers and distributors, working in collaboration with primary authorities.

It will also work with white goods manufacturers to see that their compliance systems are robust.

Further details of the product safety strategy can be found in our news article.

Although this much needed strengthening of the national capacity for product safety is a welcome step, it doesn’t go far enough in our view.

We still have concerns over whether the plan will be implemented effectively and result in changes.

Demanding more

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.’

Do you think enough is being done nationally to tackle unsafe products? Will the OPSS really be able to carry out what they’re proposing in their strategy?

Comments
Richard Thorndycroft says:
5 October 2018

It all goes back to the sale of goods act. If something is found to be unfit for purpose it should not be offered for sale. That’s it in a nutshell!

This will probably spark a debate but….

What is it? What is the purpose of the goods?

A tumble dryer. It dries wet/damp clothing to an acceptable or the desired degree.

Was it a tumble dryer. Yes.

Did it dry clothing? Yes.

Ergo, it is indeed what it was stated to be, did as intended and therefore was fit for the purpose that it was intended for.

Did it give rise to any issue later, perhaps yes, perhaps no but that is not really relevant as it is a machine, all machines will break or fail at some stage, this is inevitable and wholly unavoidable. The when and manner of failure, as well as the rights or wrongs of that you can debate till the cows come home and, you’ll get a plethora of differing opinions depending on the product in question and the opinion of who you ask.

Was it safe? That is where there could be a debate but as previously commented by myself the vast bulk of these machines, all made the same way, with the same bits in them never had an issue. Is it failure to clean filters etc, lack of maintenance and care… who knows but I suspect strongly many if not most all will be.

But to argue that they were in my understanding of the legalities, not fit for purpose, is a losing argument out the traps as it was what it said it was and did what it was supposed to do therefore it would meet that criteria.

Things don’t alter and become “not fit for purpose” after the fact, years down the road, they either are or are not fit for purpose from the outset.

Further down the track, they’re just broken and can no longer perform the task/s for which they were originally designed to perform.

Just like a car with worn bits that are broken and cannot be driven. It didn’t start out not fit for purpose and you cannot argue that it did, it just needs to be repaired to get it back into a condition where it can once more perform the task/s it was originally intended for.

What gets confused and I will confess it annoys me at times, is people swapping out “durability” arguments to “fit for purpose” when the two are different.

K.

‘Fitness for purpose’ applies in the early days after purchase and is primarily to cover individual products that fail, or develop faults, very early.

But an appliance should do what the manufacturer says it should do for at least the warranty period –
without breaking down,
without repetitive malfunctioning,
without requiring manual attention to get it to work when required, and
without a significant component [like the door] experiencing catastrophic failure.

I would argue that things that fail any of those tests are not fit for purpose because apart from a purely functional requirement [i.e.it washes, it dries] the purchaser is entitled to a reliable appliance.

Minor non-recurring repairable defects would not make an appliance unfit for purpose in my opinion.

I cannot accept Richard Thorndycroft’s statement because one defective product does not mean the whole output or model type is not fit for purpose.

I agree with Kenneth that durability is a different issue and, of necessity, has to include a degree of elasticity in the assessment taking account of various factors like the price, the materials, the build quality, the manufacturer’s claims, the maintenance standards, and the degree and frequency of use among others.

Bruce Myers says:
16 October 2018

Great post!

Pauline allon says:
11 November 2018

Ihave found the information available on the Which website very helpful and informative regarding consumer protection

I gather there are several leading hair shampoos (at least 4) which contain the ingredient(s) Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methyltisothiazolinone (MIT), which has/have been linked to causing Altzhimer’s disease.

My question is, why do we have to wait so long before we discover that our everyday products use such toxic materials, knowingly put in by their manufacturers…???

As we are so regularly told in the media: “Always read the label.”

I have changed the brand(s) I use accordingly.

We are very fortunate in here as we have an expert Biologist among our membership, I’m sure he will be along shortly to comment. Meanwhile, after some searching of relevant databases and scholarly articles, the only thing I could discover about Methyltisothiazolinone is that there seems to be a growing risk of contact dermatitis following airborne exposure to the chemical .

These chemical compounds are both isothiazolinones and are widely used as preservatives to prevent growth of bacteria and fungi in a wide variety of products including shampoos, cosmetics and water-based paints. The problem of contact dermatitis seems to be well established but the risks may be underestimated by manufacturers, as seems to be the case in a widely used combination of the two chemicals mentioned by TonyL: https://www.dow.com/assets/attachments/business/pcare/kathon_for_personal_care/kathon_cg/tds/kathon_cg.pdf

Ian has provided a link to a useful article that contains the following statement: “It is unacceptable that a commonly used chemical should be allowed to pose a threat to human health through airborne exposure in many environments. We suggest that the existing risk assessments for cosmetic and industrial products that contain methylisothiazolinone should be re-evaluated. In addition, regulators should consider immediately lowering the allowed concentration of this compound in all types of products until a safe concentration is established or methylisothiazolinone is completely banned from all consumer and occupational products.” The article mentions that as a result of previous research, the use of the preservative methyldibromoglutaronitrile in cosmetics has been banned.

Without some form of effective preservative, certain products would not be viable unless sterilised and refrigerated after opening or supplied in single-use sachets. A couple of years ago the formulation of Valspar paints was changed and users found that their houses started smelling of cat pee, thanks to removal of an effective preservative allowing bugs to grow invisibly on painted surfaces.

I don’t know the answer but it would help if manufacturers of shampoos etc stressed the importance of thorough rinsing to ensure that the problem chemicals are removed and do not remain in contact with the skin for longer than necessary. It would be interesting to know how other preservatives compare with the isothiazolinones and if they are safer, manufacturers should adopt them.

“Major product safety shake-up needed to tackle flood of dangerous products”
15 April 2019

https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/major-product-safety-shake-up-needed-to-tackle-flood-of-dangerous-products/

I believe three things are essential.
1. to stay a part of the European organisations that report and share information on unsafe, dangerous, non compliant products.
2. to properly resource and fund a UK product-policing organisation that can swiftly intercept potentially dangerous products before they are widely distributed. I’m in favour of a National Trading Standards body that focuses on this.
3. to prosecute and penalise those who distribute such products in the UK to make it not worth while. That requires substantial penalties, whether for small companies or multi-nationals with a base here.

This will definitely need a major shake-up.

Do you remember the long list I posted of unknown brand air-fryers I found on Amazon?

This is where Which? could really make a difference and play a major role in future product safety. It already does some testing of products, but this needs to be developed into so much more to enable buyer confidence.

A first stage would be for Which? to offer a thorough testing service so the product could be endorsed as safe. Sellers would then be able to use a Tested by Which? logo. In the case of air fryers, I would expect the product to be dismantled for an internal safety check.

Tested by Which? could start as a voluntary process encouraging buyers to look for the logo when making purchases.

At a later stage, this could become mandatory for all small and large appliances.

Which? testing would need to follow every requirement of the relevant BS EN standards to formally endorse a product as “safe”. This is a very expensive process and, i believe, given the number of products they report on, not within their capabilities.

It is illegal to put a product on the market that is unsafe so where Which? could contribute would be rather the opposite approach – when they test and find an unsafe aspect that fails to meet the regulations, publicise that (as they do) but follow it up with the appropriate authority to have the product investigated, removed from sale if appropriate, and legal action taken against the distributor.

It’s all very well and good saying that these things can be done but the reality is that any measures need to be set out, resources put into place to affect them and funding found to pay for those resources.

And as Malcolm rightly points out, you need the resources to test as well and that is far from cheap and not quick either. Plus, a seller that’s that dodgy just changes the brand or model and carries on regardless. You’d end up chasing your tail half the time.

Which is, I think you’ll find the brick wall as Which? don’t have the resources or cash to pay for it.

The government doesn’t either and, they’ve got bigger issues right now that demand all the funding that they have.

And even when you get all that, the cash has to be found to prosecute if that’s even financially viable or worthwhile to do.

K.

I am keen on independent testing and support Alfa’s suggestion. At present we have to wait until a problem is discovered and confirmed and the manufacturer taking action or required to do so. That could take months or years, during which time people could be injured or worse.

Which? sometimes discovers and takes action on safety problems during testing but in the case of electrical products it’s really necessary to dismantle products, look for problems and carry out appropriate tests.

For those unfamiliar with the extent of safety standards:

BS EN 60335-1 is the generic standard “ Household and similar electrical appliances – safety” that applies to all such products. It has 189pp of requirements and applicable tests.

In addition to meeting the relevant clauses of part 1, there are part 2 safety standards that are tailored to specific products.
Thus BS EN 60225-2 is for vacuum cleaners – 31pp
-7 for washing machines 36pp
-11 for tumble dryers 26pp
-15 for appliances that heat liquids (e.g. kettles, egg boilers, coffee makers) 35pp
-24 for fridges etc 50pp

To legally put such appliances on the market requires them to meet all the requirements of the appropriate standards. Reputable manufacturers have all the facilities to carry out the necessary assessments and/or will use external test facilities. To apply a certification mark (like a kite mark) requires the testing to be carried out by a nationally-recognised laboratory.

For Which? to make a declaration that a product is “safe” would, in my view, require it to test each product they report on to all appropriate sections of the relevant standards. They could be liable if they do not do this properly and a fault is subsequently found in a product endorsed by Which? that causes injury. So it would have to do the job properly. That is, I believe, something they have neither the resources, money or time to do.

Perhaps Which? would comment on this.

Does any other consumer organisation adopt this approach?

I suggest that we should concentrate our criticism and attention on those disreputable manufacturers who do not observe such matters. For Which? to uncover something that is “unsafe” is much less of a task and that should be sufficient to have the “authorities” investigate further and decide what action to take. This is where we need the money and people to look after our safety.