We have today released our report on the UK’s product safety system. In it, we call on the Government to urgently overhaul the UK’s broken product safety and recall system.
The UK’s fragmented product safety system simply isn’t fit for purpose and, as such, is potentially putting people’s lives at risk through a lack of joined-up national oversight and action.
Take, for example, the long-running saga with Whirlpool’s fire-risk tumble dryers where Peterborough Trading Standards initially failed to force Whirlpool to change its advice to consumers. This was despite more than 700 instances of Whirlpool-owned brands of tumble dryers catching fire in people’s homes.
Sadly, it took the threat of a judicial review by Which? back in December 2016 to finally force Peterborough Trading Standards to change its approach.
In January 2017, Peterborough issued two enforcement notices to Whirlpool, forcing the manufacturer to change its safety advice. Owners of affected dryers are advised to switch off the machine and not use it until it has been fixed.
The safety system shouldn’t rely on organisations like us to threaten legal action in order to ensure consumers are adequately protected.
A new safety system
In our view, and as highlighted in our new report, the product safety system simply isn’t fit for purpose and its over reliance on a local approach to a national problem poses grave risks to consumers. The current system has no single source of information on product recalls for consumers and uses an ineffective local solution to tackle what is a national problem.
Problems with the product safety regime are made worse by the lack of resources for local trading standards teams, which have lost more than half of their full-time equivalent staff and expertise since 2009. This, combined with an over reliance on manufacturers to self-check their products’ safety, paints a worrying picture.
The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union could also place even more pressure on an already stretched system as we could lose important protections from the EU’s enforcement network, as well as access to the EU’s Rapid Alert System for dangerous non-food products.
We’re concerned that the Government has been slow to respond to serious incidents and subsequent reviews following product related fires. In October 2016 the Government set up a Working Group on Product Recall and Safety. We’re awaiting the conclusions from this working group, but we hope it has firmly grasped the scale of the problems facing the current system.
Action on safety
We’re calling on the Government to take urgent action and create a new national body that has all of the tools it needs to get unsafe products out of people’s homes.
We also believe a single, reliable and well-publicised website should be created to provide authoritative information and advice when dangerous products are identified or recalls are required.
Update: 20 July 2017
The Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety has published its report and outlined recommendations for improving the UK’s product safety system.
- The Group’s recommendations include:
- setting up a central scientific and technical resource;
- working with the British Standards Institute to create a Code of Practice for businesses and regulators to set out best practice for undertaking and evaluating corrective action and recalls of products;
- improving the way product-related accident and fire data is gathered; and
establishing effective arrangements between trading standards and electrical goods manufacturers through Primary Authority, to strengthen compliance and recalls.
These recommendations are not the fundamental reform needed to fix the UK’s broken product safety system, which currently poses grave risks to consumers.
The report heavily promotes primary authority partnerships as a part of the solution. We have concerns about the use of primary authority partnerships between businesses and local authorities – which failed consumers in the case of tumble dryers from Whirlpool brands.
We’re calling on the government to take urgent action to put consumers first and to create a new national body to lead on product safety, as well as a genuine ‘one-stop-shop’ to provide authoritative information and advice when dangerous products are identified or recalls are required.
Do you trust the current product safety system? Do you agree that the system needs overhauling? What would you do to improve the safety system to make it better for consumers?