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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

A national database of faulty model numbers that is accessible to the public
ie “This model is prone to electric motor burn out & has been implicated in 3 house fires this year”
Often a fault happens after some time,and both the public and the manufacturers would like to know
In addition, Fire Brigades should compile stats on particularly dangerous products
It would be very useful for owners of dangerous, aging, or 2nd hand domestic appliances to be able to check reliability. It may be that a component, rather than the machine, is the problem, and to prevent it being redeployed, the part numbers should also be on the register.
The new department should collate data, inform manufacturers of concerns, and prevent further problems.
It should work with product testing organisations like Which? & gather manufacturer test data, and it would need access to testing facilities
Ultimately, it would need to be able to demand production change or cease, and have the powers to enforce this, possibly blocking imports or production.

Joanna Wilson says:
22 January 2018

It will be toothless and open to influence if it is not independent. But ‘Which?’ and all supporters deserve great congratulations on getting this far. Thank you.

Thanks for your support Joanna!

Karen Irek says:
22 January 2018

Another body without “teeth” is just another quango using up taxpayers money with jobs for the boys! There are too many fires in the home caused by faulty electrical goods – anecdotal evidence immediately after Grenfell was that this was a case in point. I hope Government will listen to bodies such as Which who have no axe to grind in relation to recall of products but on whom most people rely for evidence of safety and efficacy of products and will give their new organisation power to act quickly when matters of serious safety concern are raised.

Another government department, another layer of bureaucracy with ambiguous aims and reinterpretable policies depending on expediency – exactly what Britain needs!

Nothing is simpler than producing a sign to stick on the door of a convenient empty office and provide a couple of staff to cope with an impossible workload and even if one government provides the right budget and intentions another government will soon change things. Nothing is easier than to do something to keep the peasants quiet and then develop selective hearing – like claiming the Alternative Vote referendum was really a Proportional Representation Referendum…

If the departments we already have were made to work and keep working as intended this country wouldn’t be the joke it currently is – the Health and Safety Executive, Weights and Measures, Trading Standards, Customs and Excise, Immigration Service, the Police…
The only department that seems to work consistently to a ridiculous degree is a department many believe we could mostly manage without – OFSTED!

The last thing this country needs is another replay of Theresa May’s dad asking her what she wants for Christmas, she invariably asks for a cowboy outfit and last time he bought her the UK Immigration Service.

There is nothing wrong with government departments in principle but the fact they are overseen by a closed shop dedicated to protecting laziness and incompetence is not in the public interest…

Gerry says:
22 January 2018

I agree with you entirely. Your comments are spot on. We are always being ” played” by politians. We really need to get a grip and make them work for us all. Rather than the reverse.

The current CE mark does not prove that a product is safe as it is only the manufacturer claiming that a product is. Until all products have to be tested independently by law the CE can only mean a product is a China Export.

If that is indeed so, then perhaps savvy folk should take CE as standing for “Caveat Emptor” (== “buyer beware”) and rely more on their own judgements around product safety.

Companies that CE Mark must have other accredited processes in place to be able to apply the mark legitimately. However it is, of course, open to fraudulent use.

The problem of testing is two-fold. One, there are insufficient accredited testing facilities to independently verify every design – imagine toys for example. Second, such testing only takes place on a test sample, not every product of course, so a determined fraudster could supply a compliant sample but produce something different. Companies must also have an ISO 9000 series quality system in place that is designed to ensure consistency of product, and as this is independently granted it is subject to regular outside audits; these can impose penalties if the system fails, including withdrawal of the accreditation.

Our problem is policing the market effectively to detect fraudulent products and remove them, and heavily penalise those who import and distribute them. I doubt we do either very well, but Trading Standards could be revitalised to do this properly- if they were given the funding. What do consumers want to pay for?

The problem with May is she,s great on speeches about things needed doing but rubbish on putting in the action needed.
We need a change someone who listens and does1.

Fabia Moon says:
22 January 2018

If safety checks were more stringent in the factories where this stuff was made we wouldn’t need an independent body to oversee this!!

Safety of any machine is most important and tomake sure ALL items are safe is long overdue

How many people on this thread I wonder have actually added to the reader reviews section of the Which? product reports. Generally this is an area not much used and in fact could be arranged markedly more usefully. It is flawed but if members made more use of it we could then at least start on an independent consumer feedback system.

Some years ago I suggested that Which? act as a postbox for consumer complaint emails to manufacturers. The reason for this is quite simple : if one hundred people complain about a certain failing of a product only the maker will know there is a repeating problem and either it will tell the customer it is a one off fail, or it will pretend there is no problem.

Information should be the weapon of choice when dealing with large companies and or dangerous products. Amazon continually allows unsafe products to be sold through marketplace under a variety of different company names. *

The only way consumers can help themselves is to press Which? to make greater use of its subscriber base and the long term testing that they can provide on products. This system should also allow for products not tested for Which? originally but provide for a way of aggregating complaints against vendors who sell shoddy or dangerous products – for instance the xhose variants.

The details are rather lengthy but all feasible and small cost.

Consumer bodies in Holland, France and Italy have all taken action against major companies and perhaps Which? could become more bolshy itself. In Australia Choice issues annual “awards” for shoddy products and services which I think we should have been doing here. Showing some teeth and big publicity would be good for the public to see as individual big businesses are taken to task.

* sharing information about products with other consumer groups would multiply the power of consumers against the multi-nationals.

Roger Holton says:
22 January 2018

Instead of wasting MORE money on something which will not work, bring in laws where is something is proven wrong or dangerous the manufacturer or supplier MUST notify the customers and recall and repair/replace within 6 months. (They won’t do this, saves too much money so can’t give to the “Old Boys Network.” For their pension pot, holidays, etc.)

Roger, how do you contact these customers unless you know who they are? They will need to have registered their contact details for this to happen. Unless registration is compulsory many will never know of a recall – just like the many Whirlpool/Indesit customers. Hopefully this government department will address compulsory registration as a priority, but I guess it will take more than £12 million a year to do it.

Andy says:
22 January 2018

As soon as a problem with a product is reported it should be thoroughly investigated. There should be a separate department set up to look into the problem and then force the compamy involved to resolve and repair any such complaints immediately. The furore about Whirlpool should never happen again.

The Office for Product Safety and Standards will have a budget of around £12 million per year when fully operational.

That is less than the £13.3m Which? spent last year on “promoting consumer interests. Perhaps if Which? increased Members subscriptions by 6% they could donate this to the government – and add 50% to the OPSS budget? 🙁

It is 1.2% of what the government has spent on HS2 so far (£1 bn)- with no construction started.

So is £12m how much the government values consumer protection?

It’s time Which? rallied its troops to get the government to put consumers – 66 million of us – first, instead of the wealthy few who will use a railway.

Many tumble dryers have been modified by Whirlpool, even though some have had to wait a long time for this to be done. Has the modification been shown to be effective in preventing accumulation of lint. If ever there was a case for independent testing, this must be one.

I have been asking Which? about testing Indesit dryers, and having them examined, so we can be sure the modifications deal with the problem. I’ve seen no results. This is really something Peterborough Trading Standards should have dealt with long ago, including a check on whether the dryers would have met the safety standard when new.

Owners should never have been made to wait a long time for “modifications”. The law requires repairs to be carried out without unreasonable inconvenience:
Any refund, repair or replacement you arrange with your customer relating to faulty goods must not cause them too much inconvenience and you will have to pay for other costs, for example, collection or delivery.” How have the combined efforts of all those involved ensured this legal requirement was met?

I admit I’ve long wondered the same thing. The only conclusion I’ve been able to reach is that big companies – through whatever means – often seem able to thwart processes which would catch you or me out every time.

Whirlpool isn’t the only example of this. The Murdock’s News Corps has proved similarly immune; despite it being blatantly obvious to just about anyone with an iota of intellect or perception that the illegal activities there were clearly countenanced by those at the very top, only the PBI (military jargon) were hung out to dry, and those in the driving seats walked away scot free.

Much as we differ with Duncan on so many things, he’s spot on about the grip the major businesses in the UK have around the collective necks of the administration.

We have BSI which I believe should have tested the potentially dangerous dryers before and after modification and made the information publicly available. Doing this in house would help inform the committee that is responsible for safety of these products.

I share concerns about large businesses. In my view, the rot set in when political parties were allowed to receive funding from businesses.

As has been said a number of times, this is not, to my knowledge, within BSI’s remit; they are not a “policing” organisation. However, they will conduct tests and investigations on behalf of others – that is part of their job. The government, trading standards, or Whirlpool could have done this – the latter being forced to fund it as part of their “remedial plan”.

Just as bad to receive funding from trades unions, but let’s not allow this Convo to be another attack on business or government. The serious issue is how best we protect the consumer. So far, business has been one of the very few doing that through the product registration scheme. Let’s hope the new Department works properly with all that need to be involved to achieve sensible and rapid results.

I’ve said the same about government funding from trade unions, but the one time I forget is used as a reason for criticism. 🙁

I don’t think many people would have confidence in Whirlpool carrying out independent testing, Malcolm.

I am not criticising, just balancing a comment about large business.

My comment said that BSI would conduct tests on behalf of others, and I included Whirlpool as one who could have asked for this. I was not suggesting Whirlpool carried out the testing, simply paid for it.

However, raising the question of Whirlpool doing tests, in their position I would have done extensive laboratory testing to find out what the real problem was with the faulty Indesit dryers they had inherited, and to work out what modifications were needed to achieve a satisfactory result. If I were also Peterborough Trading Standards I would have wanted to see these results and probably have them independently verified before accepting the Whirlpool remedy. Did any of this happen? Have Which? asked?

Hi Malcolm, the manufacturer would have advised PTS of the problem and we don’t know whether PTS carried out any further investigative work as a result.

@ldeitz, thanks Lauren. Did you mean “we don’t know”? If so, can you ask Peterborough Trading Standards (hopefully an FOI request would not be needed).

Sorry, Malcolm – yes, we don’t know… will edit my comment! Hopefully, an FOI request isn’t needed, but I’ll see if we can find out. To date, we’ve not seen any issues with modifications but we are keen for people to let us know if they’ve had further problems.

Thanks @ldeitz. My concern has always been that Peterborough TS did not seem to have the ability to deal with this problem, or else were put under pressure. But no one seems to have looked into how it should have been done properly. We don’t want this apparent ineptness repeated.

I think you have a fair point there, Malcolm – in fact, we’ve touched on this before and Pete also raised it in October when giving evidence in Parliament. There are lessons to be learned and the events of the past couple of years have proven that a change to the whole system is needed.

I think it should be within the remit of BSI to carry out tests on suspect products and to seek reimbursement where appropriate. I cannot see any other way that they can be adequately informed about risks without looking at these products.

I would hope the new Department would commission such testing and charge to the appropriate company. Those who detect possible problems through, for example, consumer reports or trading standards should be the ones to determine when a structured investigation is necessary, of which testing might form a part; that would, I’d think, be a role of the new Dept.

There are a number of accredited test houses, apart from BSI, who could undertake this work. As many (most) products are “international” these same issues could be common to other countries. I would hope there would be cooperation throughout Europe to investigate common problems in an agreed manner. More than UK test houses would then be involved.

Fatma Caffer says:
22 January 2018

I agreed with most of the comments the government must take into account the scientific evidence of its committee’s when making law and not ignore the facts.

I am both surprised and disappointed at the negativity being shown towards the new Office for Product Safety and Standards. Even before it opened for business it was being condemned. The brass plate on the door is still shiny yet people are saying it won’t achieve anything. Whatever happened to constructive criticism? Those who are denigrating the organisation are not putting forward much in the way of practical and economical alternatives. Yes, they come up with idealistic notions which they fly on their kites to catch the wind but don’t have a serious future, but that is just a way of saying “told you so” in a year or two’s time when something goes wrong. It is so easy to criticise and use derogatory language about the people who will be staffing the new organisation. Of course, if our public servants are so incompetent it’s a good job there are no serious proposals to re-nationalise any privatised services.

Last week we didn’t have any official body to look after product safety. This week we have a commitment to set one up. It will not deliver everything we want and it might have a limited brief, but the situation today is better than it was last week. The challenge now is to work with the new Office and help it to develop as a valuable resource on the side of consumers. I am hoping Which? will take that line and not a hostile one just because it didn’t get everything it wanted.

Opposing things for the sake of it, and objecting to proposals that fall short of the ideal, is not a responsible trajectory in my view. If we want improved product safety and mechanisms to deliver it we have to start somewhere. As Malcolm R has said in a different Conversation today, “we need to get this department working on two key issues without delay. One is to improve the way fraudulent, unsafe, dangerous products are detected and removed; this should be Trading Standards job. The other is to ensure that products found to be defective are able to be dealt with, and this needs a compulsory registration system”. It’s time for the moaning and groaning to stop and to start being positive.

I am supportive of the principle of an Office for Product Safety and Standards but I am critical of specific parts of the statement of intent. I posted these yesterday. It does not seem to have compulsory registration on its list, but seems to want to explore how voluntary registration can be improved. I simply do not see how that can ever allow any “full recall” – when every owner will need to be contacted.

I agree, Malcolm. There is certainly a need to beef it up. The general purposes of the organisation seem to be a work in progress and I would hope the behavioural research element [presumably someone’s hobby-horse] will get side-lined as reality sinks in. But nonetheless, the OPSS doesn’t deserve the knocking it is getting at this early stage.

Thinking about Malcolm’s oft-repeated question about how companies could track domestic equipment once it hit the second hand market, I wondered about tagging.

Tiny RFID chips cost peanuts and could be installed in every new product for almost nothing. They’d each carry a unique ID and would continuously attempt to transmit that to an internet source. That would mean wherever the product was, sooner or later its location would be noted.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with RFID chips, these are commonly used in supermarkets to deter shoplifting. I am not sure what range they are effective over. Perhaps if some of the ingenuity expended on the ‘Internet of things’ and household robots could be harnessed and applied to product safety, we would find effective solutions to challenging problems.

If they linked to your router? At least we have a positive proposal. The same could perhaps be applied to all products to avoid an expensive mail out, or to rely upon responses to emails.

I wonder whether a device could work both ways – not only send its location but receive a notification if a recall or safety issue were current – displaying a warning on the product. What system would be best to allow 2 way communication. Could the smart meter network be used?

Questions that remain unanswered get lost when new pages appear; that is why they are repeated.

It’s obviously necessary to establish whether this or other suggestions provide viable solutions and to protect against the possibility that data could be misused.

Our country has a long history of coming up with solutions to challenging problems.

@awhittle Hi Alex – Would it be possible to put some information about recalls on the Which? website? Even a link to this page would be useful: https://www.tradingstandards.uk/consumers/product-recalls

Hi Wavechange, we have consumer advice for what people should do if they own a product which has been recalled, this also includes how to check if your product is on a recall list. The advice can be found here: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/if-theres-a-product-recall-what-are-my-rights

Was there somewhere else you would like to see it? I’m happy to pass it on to the correct person.

Thanks Alex. I realise that I may have found the CTSI information when using the Which? website. 🙂

I wonder if a link could be placed somewhere where users of the website are more likely to find it. I keep an eye on recalls but would like to help others.

Thanks Alex @awhittle, That’s a useful site that I have not come across before. It’s now bookmarked 🙂

Alex: perhaps W? could create a specific page which featured all links to important recalls, safety warnings and so on?

I’m happy to pass on the suggestion 🙂 We do also publicise major recalls on our news page, and social media accounts so that we can make consumers aware. I’ll send your comments on to our consumer rights team.

Perhaps we should have a look at poor design of products.

Here is one example. Plug-in products such as chargers and power supplies are generally glued together whereas it used to be common to have screws holding the two parts of the case together. It’s not just cheap products that rely on glue and if this fails then live parts can be exposed, resulting in a risk of electric shock.

I suspect glue is used because it is cheaper than using screws. If the intention is to discourage tampering, both glue and screws could be used. Alternatively, there are effective fixtures that allow assembly but not dismantling.

Recalls due to reports of glued products falling apart are quite common. I have had three products affected by recalls and when I lent a DAB radio to a friend to test reception in his home, the case of the power supply fell apart.

I suspect that not many people do electrocute themselves if their charger falls apart, but the cost of recalling products must be expensive, and the consumer pays the cost.

I wonder if anyone analyses recalls with a view to improving product design.

“Looking at the poor design of products” is something I have been proposing for a long time, as well as routine testing. Design strengths and weakness, use of decent or poor components, good or poor assembly, can be seen by any reasonably knowledgeable person.

Just looking at the example of glued cases, does anyone think my concern is valid?

Who should decide whether it is acceptable to move from cases that used to be screwed together to ones that are glued?

A safety standard could, and maybe does, prescribe tests to check the integrity of the join, whether under mechanical or heat stress including abnormal conditions. Have you looked at what the safety standard says?

I checked the most recent recalled products and all three were very securely glued, but there had been obviously been a sufficient number of failures for the manufacturers to recall their products. Modern glues are extremely effective but still have to be applied correctly to do their job, so there is a quality control issue.

This is the sort of problem that would be unlikely to be found by testing a small number of samples. As I have suggested, s******g the cases together or using alternative fastenings could eliminate the problem.

I would like to know who studies the reasons for recalls and how the information is used to design safer products.

I would expect manufacturers to learn from recalls and improve products. None of the reputable ones would want the expense, nor reputation loss, of producing sub-standard products.

A glued joint may have been used to prevent moisture ingress which a screwed joint would not, unless a separate seal were also used.

I must admit I used “insurance” in design, so that if something relatively new did not work as well as expected in the “field”, there was a back up. Snap joints with adhesive maybe. However, some things that appear trouble free are occasionally found to develop problems due to the manufacturing process or in service and we learn from them. I well remember Noryl (a plastic) being used for kettle handles and then it was found to be affected by margarine – from home bakers’ hands. I would have thought that difficult to predict.

Fortunately most innovations are as thoroughly tested as possible before release.

One example of a recall that affected me was a smart meter power supply: https://www.eonenergy.com/for-your-home/smart-meters/product-recall The energy supplier did contact me even though the product had been supplied to the previous house owner.

I accept that some problems are hard to predict, but I have little doubt that there will be future cases of power supplies and chargers falling apart if manufacturers just rely on glue. Why has the message not been learned? Screws, push-fit retainers or case clips used in conjunction with glue would provide a belt & braces solution.

I’m sure most do learn their lesson. Many products are successfully glued together, including airplanes. Nothing is perfect (although I hope the latter are). I’ve never had a glue joint fail on the many power supplies and chargers I own. I wonder what the % of failures actually is? Screws and clips can fail if subjected to mechanical shock whereas the relatively large area held by glue may well survive better. Ultrasonic welding is another way of joining plastic parts together. Manufacturers do have designers and manufacturing engineers as well as the expertise of materials suppliers to make a process as successful as possible. We can all do their jobs better 🙂 when things go wrong, as in any walk of life. They do not knowingly design stuff to fail, to my knowledge (although cheap imported third party products may well not be manufactured with such care).

Modern adhesives are fantastic compared with those that were available when I was a child, but unless they are used carefully they might not do their job. Apart from the radio power supply I have not had one come apart, and the recalled products were securely glued. I appreciate the value of waterproofing and am familiar with fractures due to shock or over-tightening of screws. The power supplies and chargers I own may have internal clips or other fixing but there is no easy way of checking. I mentioned this as an example why some products are recalled and one which I believe could be largely eliminated.

It looks as though these power supplies are covered by BSE 61558-1 and specific parts. They specify, for example, resistance to humidity, mechanical strength and resistance to heat fire and tracking.

Whatever happened to the kite mark?

It is still in use on products that BSI certify. Other European marks are equivalent to the Kite Mark and. as we use harmonised (“common”) standards, just as authoritative.

The government should be reading Which Mag to be aware of safe or unsafe products.