A Non-Standard Approach: Electrical Product Safety for British Importers and Retailers

Product safety in the UK is generally considered to be of a relatively high standard but, as Electrical Safety First’s research and media reports have shown, there are several areas where improvements could be made to significantly increase consumer safety and raise industry standards. It’s worth pointing out that almost half of all domestic fires arise through electricity, with the majority caused by electrical products.

More recently there have been a number of innovative consumer products coming onto the market that include new technologies – products such as hoverboards, e-cigarettes and 3D-printers – which don’t have a safety standard that covers them. At Electrical Safety First we’re keenly aware that importers and retailers need support in fulfilling their legal obligations in relation to product safety.

On 16th April 2016, we teamed up with Intertek, to advise UK manufacturers, importers and retailers on best practice for product safety. Over the course of a half-day seminar, we discussed several areas where improvements could be made to increase consumer safety and raise industry standards, including:

Due Diligence

The UK continues to migrate from being a manufacturing nation to one which imports and retails products that are made extensively outside of the EU. Amongst other things, the revised Low Voltage Directive (LVD) places obligations on both importers and distributors in regard to ensuring only safe products find their way into consumers’ hands. As such, having effective due diligence procedures is an essential defence mechanism to demonstrate compliance with the LVD, and indeed UK Law.

Using the infamous hoverboard as an example, many of those products taken off the market were fitted with undersized and unfused plugs, as well as having no or very poor markings on the packaging. Even using something as simple as the Electrical Safety First ‘Plug Checker (© Registered Design 5001523) would have spotted the problem plug; deterring several importers and distributors from buying the products in the first instance and preventing the unwanted media attention that followed.

Provision of simple but effective tools and guidance would benefit buyers of electrical products, who are often tasked with procuring multiple product ranges and whose focus is generally to obtain the ‘best price’. This would filter out a large portion of unsafe and non-compliant products, as well as reducing the reputational and financial risk to the employing organisation. Such guidance would also serve to demonstrate effective due diligence.

Product recalls

After much anticipation, on 18 February this year, Lynne Faulds Wood’s review of the UK's product recall system and the Government's response to it were both published. At Electrical Safety First, we have long campaigned for this review, as our past research shows that only 10-20%  of recalled electrical products are ever returned, potentially putting lives at risk.

The independent report, written by Lynn Faulds Wood who led the review, contained nine recommendations:

  1. setting up a dedicated product safety agency
  2. introducing a single official website for recalls
  3. improving funding and resources for market surveillance/recalls
  4. finding alternative sources of funding for market surveillance
  5. revising guidance on recalls
  6. improving data sharing
  7. reintroducing a UK injury database
  8. identifying ways to influence consumers
  9. offering awards for universities for innovative solutions to recalls

In its response, the Government stated its intention to set up a Steering Group to look at ways and means of addressing the recommendations it believes are likely to deliver meaningful and effective change for an improved UK recall system. Whilst acknowledging the importance of effective market surveillance and enforcement, the Government’s response made no comment on this, given the current review of trading standards under the Red Tape Challenge.

It was through feedback from our conferences, and the demand for information, that we at Electrical Safety First have developed a range of consultancy services, including risk assessment, buying advice and product safety training, as we believe the best way to protect consumers is by working with the industry.

For information on our consultancy services, or if you are interested in attending our next product safety conference, email us at: enquiries@electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk