Safety in Mind – A Non-Standard Approach to Product Safety

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.

In April, 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:

Routes to compliance

Most electrical products made available on the EU market come under the auspices of the LowVoltage Directive (LVD), which has been revised and is due to come into effect on 20 April 2016. Amongst other things, the LVD permits the sale of electrical products only if they are ‘safe’ for persons, domestic animals and property, when properly used for their intended purpose or under conditions of use that can be reasonably foreseen – including taking account of readily predictable behaviour.

Ensuring and demonstrating compliance with the safety requirements of the LVD requires
manufacturers to implement a conformity assessment procedure. In the case of products covered by a Harmonised Standard published in the Official Journal of the EU, manufacturers are able to follow a presumption of conformity route. However, products like hoverboards are not covered explicitly by a Harmonised Standard published in the Official Journal and therefore an alternative and arguably more onerous route for demonstrating conformity must be followed.

Manufacturers who don’t have the necessary skills in-house to carry out comprehensive risk
assessments must either employ those skills or engage with an organisation who specialises in such matters.

Importers and distributors – due diligence

It is not just manufacturers who need to be aware of their product safety legal obligations. 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 defense 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’ 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.
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, telephone us at 020 3463 5100 or email us directly at: