Product Safety

Setting minimum standards for conformity
Clarity is required as to future EU trade deals and the UK’s relationship with member states in order to restore business confidence in post-Brexit product standards
Christine Heemskerk, CTSI Lead Officer for Product Safety
Christine is an experienced product safety expert and Chair of the Consumer and Public Interest Strategic and Advisory Committee at the British Standards Institute

The UK’s departure from the EU raises a huge question mark over the future of the domestic product safety regime. It creates uncertainty and costs for businesses trying to plan ahead – and a real risk for consumers that the high levels of product safety enjoyed as an EU member are under threat.

Only six products are subject to UK-only legislation, with all others controlled via EU legislation. If key requirements of EU product safety rules are not retained or re-enacted after Brexit – including market surveillance definitions – it will be difficult for trading standards to properly enforce any failings in product safety activity. Threats also exist to reciprocal cooperation in vital product safety enforcement actions and the loss of key networks that assess risk and share expertise and best practice.

The government’s white paper setting out its proposals for the future relationship between the UK and the EU suggests the UK intends to maintain “its robust programme of risk-based market surveillance to ensure that dangerous products do not reach consumers”.

In order to ensure ongoing cooperation in this area, they are seeking access to systems such as the Rapid Alert System for Serious Risk (RAPEX) and the Information and Communication System for Market Surveillance (ICSMS). These are vitally important networks for the UK’s product safety regime and we welcome the ambition for their retention.

It is also important that after Brexit the system for civil access to damages for losses caused by unsafe products remains as strong as ever.

Key Findings
The entire system of product safety in the UK is at risk from Brexit. The majority of the laws that dictate the safety of our consumer products originate from the EU and cover issues such as minimum standards, rules for placing on the market and enforcement.

We welcome the government’s commitment to EU systems for product safety data sharing and surveillance but remain concerned that a full agreement on this has not yet been reached with our EU partners.

Clarity is required as to future EU trade deals and the UK’s relationship with member states in order to restore business confidence in post-Brexit product standards, and to allow regulators to interpret changes to market definitions, rules and responsibilities.

An appropriate product safety system requires local resources to monitor, sample, test and enforce product safety laws and share intelligence. The government’s ambitions to maintain a robust programme of market surveillance is completely undermined by huge cuts to trading standards.

IN FOCUS: Safety & Standards
The Office for Product Safety and Standards was formed in January 2018 following a series of major incidents, including the tragedy at Grenfell Tower and fires created by faulty tumble dryers.

Recognising system weaknesses, the Office recently announced its plans to create a Trading Standards Coordination Unit and to work with CTSI to enhance local skills capacity and planning on product safety enforcement.

The strategy echoes the government’s white paper commitment to strong protections after we leave the EU with “a free trade area for goods… a common rulebook, ongoing participation in the European products standards regime and high level of information exchange and market surveillance.”

Such messages are reassuring in intent but are subject to a trade deal and participation by our EU partners. A poor deal or no deal at all puts our product safety system in real jeopardy.

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