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What’s your view on the government’s new product safety office?

product recall

The government has announced the creation of the new ‘Office of Product Safety and Standards’. But will this new department be the fix we desperately need to improve our safety system?

Over the past year, the evidence has continued to build that the product safety system is failing with yet more unsafe products hitting the headlines.

As many of you will know, we’ve been pressing for the government to bring forward reforms to fix the broken system. Well, today the government has announced that it is recognising the need for action. It will be creating a central resource within the government department responsible for product safety, the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

While we’re pleased the problem with product safety is finally being recognised, the announcement falls short of the full overhaul urgently needed.

Product safety reform

We want the government to introduce an independent national body that has real powers to protect consumers.

Following the concerns about the product safety system raised by us, Lynn Faulds-Wood and then the BEIS Select Committee, the government has announced a new ‘Office of Product Safety and Standards’ team. However, this is not independent as it sits within the government.

BEIS states that this new ‘Office of Product Safety and Standards’ will:

  • Co-ordinate work across local authorities where action is needed on a national scale
  • Ensure the UK continues to carry out appropriate border checks once the UK leaves the EU
  • Be responsible for general (non-food) consumer product safety in line with the current responsibilities of BEIS on product safety
  • Have a budget of around £12 million per year when fully operational

Safety system

With the whole Whirlpool tumble dryer saga and our report on the failings of the product safety system, the lack of protections in place to keep people safe from dangerous products has become more obvious.

We think an independent national body which has real powers to protect them and get dangerous products out of their homes is necessary. We don’t believe the government is going far enough, do you think they should do more? What’s your view of the product safety system?


Comments

Here is the official press release issued today concerning the new Office of Product Safety and Standards that the Government intends to set up: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-launches-new-office-for-product-safety-and-standards I look forward to seeing definite proposals from the government about how consumers will be informed about potentially dangerous products.

We have an effective system for collecting information about recalled products: https://ec.europa.eu/consumers/consumers_safety/safety_products/rapex/alerts/?event=main.listNotifications

This information needs to be communicated to users of these products. The DVSA system for informing us if our cars are affected by a recall works well, thanks to the fact that cars must by law be registered. With other products, a workable system could be achieved by registration at the point of sale, but some customers are reluctant to pass on contact details to companies in case they are misused for marketing and other purposes. It is vital that a new system takes into account the many secondhand products in use and those in rented premises. These are often found in flats and tower blocks, where the dangers of a fire are considerably greater than in individual houses.

Let’s put consumers first. Please tell us what we as members of Which? can do to help push consumer safety forward.

I think it needs more powers. What if people don’t bother to replace defective products which they own? What incentives do Manufacturers really have to offer replacements?

What happened to the BSI mark?
Also, how do the prices of those brands shown to be faulty compare to other brands known to be reliable? Perhaps the faulty ones are cheaper than reliable ones and should be considered carefully prior to purchase.

H. Abbott says:
21 January 2018

I agree that it is a start; how more satisfying and much cheaper if they got all things correct, first time, rather than establish a management plan and later amend it, repeatedly.
There are many people out there who have the intelligence and honesty to make these things work without incurring high costs and having to replace people who do not come up to the mark. we do not need ministers and others to tell us how to think; many of us have or had jobs which carried responsiblity for peoples lives, on a daily basis.

It is true that, once upon a time, the BSI mark used to provide some assurance of product safety. My experience of serving as a consumer representative (voluntary) on a BSI committee in those days was that most of the other members were manufacturers’ or their representatives who could afford the time and all the expenses of London meetings etc etc and made all the running when it was decision time for setting standards. This arrangement meant that, although standards were revised from time to time, old weaknesses were often perpetuated,

Once the UK became a member of the EU, however, the system of setting design principles and standards for the products moved to an EU committee and that particular system was no longer. It is my belief that things are now better, but for how long is anyones’ guess!

This government is very good at “absorbing” criticism / complaints into official bodies that are government controlled – and therefore gov. biased. We must insist on independent investigative bodies if we are not to be duped or ignored.

The committees I sat on at BSI had a wide representation, and were certainly not dominated by manufacturers. The latter, in competitive times, released staff from commercial duties to assist the committees, but I would not describe it as “being able to afford the time”. Public bodies, consutlants, civil servants and others managed to also find the time to contribute.

Each EU country has the equivalent of BSI, and their committees all contribute to the amendment and preparation of standards to CENELEC who ultimately issue an agreed document. Even before we joined the EU we, in the UK, used many international standards as the basis for BS documents. Not really changed in a world of harmonised standards.

MP’s (especially Tory ones) are notorious for having ‘fingers in many pies’ and/or friends & associates whom they want to please or ‘let-off-the-hook’ when things go wrong. So, of course, the over-seeing body must be independent of government.

They should have recall notices on all dangerous products, such as tumble driers, fridges with plastic backings etc. These should be widely publicised. The companies who made the dangerous product should be liable and fined if there is a serious fire caused by their product. Putting out fires by the fire brigade and treating injured people in hospital is very costly for taxpayers.

Although you say the recall of cars works, I’m horrified that the VW scandle over emission control was so ineffective in this country. America seems to have a more robust system for punishing these manufacturers.
Whilst I realise that food is not a “product” as such I’m concerned that trade deals made in secret with countries such as the USA could lead to food that may not be of the standard that we should expect.

If they don’t change it, they lose a customer and maybe his family and friend. He will lose more than just giving a replacement.

Ernest King says:
21 January 2018

Make manufacturers legally responsible for all costs
attributable to faulty products no recalled or corrected within 3 months.
German retailers 9Aldi, Lidl give 3 year warranties on ALL electrical products and they are competively priced

The government – any government – always stops short of giving us what we really want so there is not much point in complaining about it. We at last have something, a government Office that will be a centre of knowledge, guidance, and coordination. I hope that Which? will be supporting it and helping to propel it forward in the right direction. Setting up an independent body with legal powers would probably have required legislation which would have delayed its implementation.

It is unfortunate that the BEIS press office does not know the proper title of the British Standards Institution but that’s a minor quibble. It would be interesting to know whether the new OPSS will be able to work with the BSI to produce either a British Standard or at least a Code of Practice for the management of product safety notifications, recalls and rectifications that UK manufacturers and importers would be required to adopt.

I think the registration of appliances requires a more robust approach than outlined in the press release. It says the OPSS is going to study consumer behaviour with a view to encouraging greater registration of appliances; that sounds a bit weak to me. It needs to be mandatory for all new large appliance sales to be registered by the seller using the supply or delivery data in their possession; it does not need to include any personal details or telephone numbers, neither need e-mail addresses be recorded unless the customer specifically permits that in accordance with the upcoming Data Protection Act 2018 requirements. Notifications should be issued by post and recalls should also be prominently advertised in the media [including social media] as a statutory obligation. As a starting point the new Office should give maximum publicity to the new streamlined version of http://www.registermyappliance.org.uk.
Developed by the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Electrical Appliances [AMDEA] the portal, now optimised for smartphones, makes registration of over 60 brands of old and new appliances faster and easier via mobile, tablet or PC.

It is difficult to enforce the registration of small appliances like irons,kettles and toasters which people can just pick up and buy in supermarkets, although a considerable number of purchasers probably do so already. It must be possible to improve the design and appeal of the registration documentation. For a start it could be pre-populated with the product name and model number, description, date of manufacture, and serial number. It should also make it clear that no personal data other than the name and address needs to be supplied, and that there will be no follow-up from the registration process for warranty sales or service agreements, although details of these could be included in the packaging but separate from the registration documents. The registration card should use a freepost address and have a free phone number for telephone registration as well as details of the on-line facility.

The big problem with ‘Register My Appliance’ is that it is run by Amdea, a manufacturers’ trade association. Trade associations are set up for the benefit of companies and there is the risk that our contact details could be shared, sold or otherwise misused. I see it as a positive step forward that Which? wants an independent organisation and this is what the government has committed itself to setting up.

I agree Wavechange, but in the meantime the AMDEA registration facility could be useful and once the data has been captured it could in due course be transferred to the new independent registration scheme. I would see the AMDEA site becoming redundant once the new service is up and running. It obviously won’t be set up overnight.

I appreciate that trade associations are set up for the benefit of companies, but one of those benefits is that companies know who own their appliances and can issue warnings etc to them as quickly as possible so there are also considerable potential benefits to consumers.

The new General Data Protection Regulations coming into effect in May 2018 should control the unauthorised use of personal data.

I believe that our new independent body could take over the Amdea system as an interim measure, John.

The GDPR requirements should be a great help in stopping misuse of personal information, and I’ve been trying to encourage discussion of this topic elsewhere. GDPR will affect all organisations that hold data, including small charities. It will become a requirement for individuals to opt-in to being contacted, which should have happened many years ago.

Agreed. Every organisation, however small, that sends e-mails to its members or holds their data on a computer will have to obtain express consent to do so if it wishes to continue doing so. I have not been approached by any of the many bodies I belong to seeking my consent so I suspect there is a general state of unpreparedness.

Both the charities that I’m involved with, one national and the other local, have this well in hand and I know of other charities which will meet the deadline. I’m not sure I have been asked to consent to receiving emails from a well known consumers’ organisation. 🙂

We should adopt a positive approach to product safety, and not denigrate initiatives. AMDEA have filled a gap that public bodies failed to do, and in consequence have benefited consumers.

However, if we want a system where any product can be recalled effectively – that is directly dealing with the owner – then it has to be done by compulsory registration at the point of sale, so every new purchase is [properly recorded. Contact details are necessary to inform them in writing, in my view, whether by post (expensive if millions of owners) or email. I’d suggest the purchaser is given the choice of contact method, but must provide postal address details.

My priority would be to get a system up and running as soon as possible, modify it as experience decides, and extend it as it becomes effective. So I’d start with the most appropriate and common appliances, say tumble dryers, fridge/freezers, dishwashers, washing machines. Apply registration to new machines, and request owners to also register their existing appliances. While a system for dealing with “transfers” – secondhand purchases – is clearly very desirable I would not like to see a system delayed while that complexity is sorted out. New products in rented accommodation would, if the landlords property, be registered to them.

If we want product safety to be properly administered we must be prepared for some sacrifice and sharing personal information that will, hopefully ( 🙁 ) be kept confidential; it is a small price to pay to protect not only your own but your neighbours’ safety if it involves fire. Recalls are, however, for more than the remote likelihood of fire; danger of electric shock is, for example, as important.

I agree Malcolm. Within ten years of a mandatory registration scheme for new sales being introduced almost all major appliances will have been covered. As the scheme develops its scope can be extended to TV’s and other items and deal with transfers. Personally I don’t see the possible misuse of personal information as an issue if the scheme is set up with sensible protocols and if protection of data is a statutory duty with effective sanctions for non-compliance. The official scheme would not involve the sort of “lifestyle surveys” that accompany the registration forms used by some companies at present.

There is, I think, no suggestion here that AMDEA is a good solution, certainly not a final one, but it is an existing solution for those who bother to register their appliances with them, when they have purchased appliances from the member manufacturers. Better than nothing, until it is replaced with something much better. And maybe a model the government could build on.

The government welcomes the ‘Register my Appliance’ initiative developed by the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Electrical Appliances (AMDEA). The government actively encourages consumers to register their products and there is a link to it on the GOV.UK website.”

At least the government recognise their is an interim measure that works, while they spend their time wondering what to do.

AMDEA represents 60 manufacturers and 85% of all large and small domestic electrical appliances sold in the UK. It has provided a free registration scheme for UK consumers to enable notification of faults for many years. It could well provide the basis for an “independent” system”.

When it seems that industry has been proactive and provided the means to inform customers, whereas government has not even been reactive – until maybe now – you have to wonder why industry is criticised when it seems to have been the only real organisation helping to protect consumers.

Personally, I would ask a university to look at this, work with government, industry and consumer groups, devise software that will handle the huge number of registrations required, and a system to automatically contact consumers. Otherwise I can see vast millions of taxpayers money going down the tubes if they employ consultants and service companies.

I would put money on it being outsourced, Malcolm. I hope the usual suspects will be prevented from bidding, however, as they have already demonstrated they cannot be trusted to keep data secure and retrieve it when required.

TV Licensing probably has the most comprehensive database of households in the UK which could be the platform for a registration system.

TV Licensing is wholly owned by the beeb; I imagine they’d be very reluctant to allow their data to be used by any other government department, even though it makes a lot of sense so to do.

The major problem will be that those who head up such organisations all, essentially, belong to the same ‘club’ and although we may have differing opinions about their competence, none of that matters when those charged with appointing them feel they’re ‘sound chaps’. The worlds of business and government are both nepotistic and incestuous.

The majority of the administration of TV Licensing is contracted to Capita Business Services Ltd (‘Capita’). ” So you want data to be secure?

I didn’t know that, Malcolm, but I was only suggesting they could hand over their database of household addresses to the new product registration scheme, not residents’ details. Perhaps the Royal Mail would be a better choice.

I think you are right, Ian. No point in me applying then; I probably part my hair on the wrong side and eat my peas with a spoon.

“AMDEA represents 60 manufacturers and 85% of all large and small domestic electrical appliances sold in the UK.” Most of the manufacturers of white goods are members of Amdea but there is very little coverage of small electricals such as mobile phones and chargers. I can recall six recalls affecting products that I have bought and they were all small items from well known manufacturers.

As you reiterate, most household electrical appliances are represented by AMDEA. Perhaps a similar trade association representing other electrical goods might have been useful.

That is not what I said and it is not true. Have a look at the list of recalls of electrical products issued by Electrical Safety First: https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/product-recalls/

You would not be able to have registered most of these products via Amdea’s scheme because the most of the manufacturers are not members of this trade association.

I quoted the figures from AMDEA’s website in relation to the products they represent – ” the UK trade association for the manufacturers of small and large domestic appliances.” I suggested that product types they did not cover might benefit from being in another trade association’s registration scheme, or register through ESF, I wonder how many people would do that?

Let’s just get a compulsory registration scheme up and running for, initially, the most vulnerable appliances instead of going round in circles and having the government avoid the real issue by “investigating human behaviour”. Is Which on board with this?

@darren-shirley, Darren, Which? have had a wealth of suggestions already through previous Convos addressing product safety and a recall system. None of this is summarised anywhere or mentioned above. are we all wasting our time “helping” Which? Have Which? any firm and specific proposals to put to Government to help improve the product safety system? Will they share them with those who are trying to help?

The government welcomes the ‘Register my Appliance’ initiative developed by the Association
of Manufacturers of Domestic Electrical Appliances (AMDEA). The government actively
encourages consumers to register their products and there is a link to it on the GOV.UK
website. It is also important that consumers are confident that the data collected through
registration is not used for marketing purposes or selling extended warranties without their
consent. The Data Protection Bill, currently in Parliament, will make our data protection laws fit
for the digital age, and will cover data collected for product registration.
The level of product registration and engagement with product safety issues by consumers is
far too low. The government is currently commissioning research into consumer behaviour on
product recalls and general views relating to product safety messages.
We want to understand
the way in which consumer behaviour relates to the low rates of response to product recalls,
and the ways that could be used to change behaviours and deliver better rates of response.
We are also commissioning research into broader attitudes to product safety, what
considerations consumers take into account, where they get information, and what influences
their behaviour.
We see there is a significant role for retailers to help promote the Register my Appliance
scheme, and many large retailers have put their weight behind the scheme. The government
considers that more could be done to ensure that registration of appliances by retailers at point
of sale, and will share insights arising from the further behavioural insights research with
stakeholders as appropriate. We will also investigate, through the Expert Panel referenced in
recommendation 8, further scope to work with retailers, banks and insurance companies to use
purchase data as a means of contacting consumers who have a product affected by a safety
issue.

This is an extremely disappointing reaction to the problem. We know that consumer behaviour will not produce adequate registrations – it never has. Why spend more time investigating when we want all appliances to be registered, something a voluntary scheme can never achieve.

How will “banks and insurance companies” know exactly what a customer has bought, to be able to provide any useful information?

Why does government not face up to facts and make a proper start, instead of prevaricating? Is Which? being formally consulted by them to contribute? It’s time consumers were directly involved in driving this “initiative”.

This government are big on talk ,and useless on action ,Britain is no longer ahead of the game,every thing is poorly run ,by people who are out of their depth,and changing to another party ,won’t solve a thing just ,more waste and utter confusion

I fully agree.

In this case the government believes it is ahead of the game because its press release on the establishment of the new product safety organisation starts off by saying “the new office will further enhance the UK’s world-leading product safety system and give consumers the highest-ever levels of protection”. That must be right, surely?

If the government had been reading Which? Convos i doubt it would regard itself as “ahead of the game”. Where is the world-leading recall system we’ve all (well many) been asking for?

Ritton says:
21 January 2018

No good shutting the door after the horse has bolted…prevention is the best cure!!!

Manufacturer should be forced to ensure their products are totally safe for the publics use.
Failure to comply they should be heavily fined and brought to justice, if justice still exists !

They are required, by law, to comply with European safety standards.

W Ward says:
21 January 2018

This government will never allow this new department to be given more powers, this is just a fudge.

Who provides this government with its donations (stupid question), they won’t bite the hand that feeds them. Sy

This will be another smokescreen appointment by the Government which like other Of*** bodies will not enforce any thing for the consumer .

It seems that this government always stops short of devolving power when it is obviously needed. The mere fact that lives have been lost, and others threatened, should have made them aware that strong measures are required. It seems to me that they back away from making any sort of strong stand against business both on moral and physical issues.

I receive several phone call a day, and the senders phone Number not available. This should be stopped !

Audrey says:
21 January 2018

The most recent freezer I bought has a plastic casing instead of the metal I believed it was made lf. Nowhere in the specification did it state that the casing was plastic. I find this dishonest. Suppliers of appliances for use in the home must be compelled to provide accurate information for householders. We also need to know which make of appliance is manufactured by which provider rather than so many makes being made by who?

Once upon a time there was BEAB, British Electrotechnicals Approval Board, if I remember correctly, and all domestic electrical products had to pass a BEAB test before they could be sold on the UK market. EU membership put an end to that, with the slack results we are all experiencing now. The sooner we get back to proper testing the better for all.

Electrical appliances have to comply with international safety standards, issued in the UK as BSEN######s, before they can be put on the market.

Just another body set up by the Government – No teeth like all the other Of*** bodies – none of which are real champions for the consumer. All talk and No action but it will cost taxpayers to set this up to no avail

I have read in the newspapers in recent times about Whirlpool tumble driers, in view of the number of faults these seem to have, why are still being sold. Why are they not taken off the market and only the better quality tumble driers sold. It isn’t fair on people when they pay a lot of money for these gadgets only to find that after a while something goes horribly wrong with them. What do the Government do – NOTHING!!

The “faulty” ones were of Indesit manufacture, a company taken over by Whirlpool and, as far as I know, none have been sold since 2015.

Chris says:
21 January 2018

I totally agree with Steve, none of these bodies set up by the government have the teeth to do anything positive for consumers, basically its just another form of lip service that the government are paying to the public. When was the last time anything meaningful came from a body set up b y the government?

Where do Trading Standards stand on this proposal and is there any way there could be a link up between the two organisations? Although I must say I’m not over enthused by this new body being run by the government because it is not truly independent. I don’t however see how it could be funded unless it’s via the manufacturers.

The government and companies that don’t make there products safe or remove unsafe products should be prosecuted with murder if someone dies as a result. This is an outrage that needs sorting

We need to reintroduce the Testing that used to be carried out by the British Standards Institute.

That has not changed except that, being part of the EU and harmonised standards, any of the EU countries’ accredited test houses, like BSI in the UK, can test and certify a product and have that accepted throughout the EU.