Product Safety Update: Strengthening National Capacity for Product Safety Strategy 2018 – 2020 – Office for Product Safety & Standards

17.08.2018

What is the Office for Product Safety & Standards?
The Office for Product Safety & Standards (OPSS) was launched in January 2018 following the recommendations of the Working Group on Product Recalls & Safety. The OPSS is established under the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
What does it do?
On 10 August 2018, OPSS published the Strategy for Strengthening National Capacity for Product Safety 2018 – 2020. OPSS’s vision is a trusted product safety system that delivers protection for consumers, fairness for business and a competitive market place which is defined by outcomes of safety and public confidence. It claims that it will drive action through four objectives: analyse, inform, enforce and build. The approach will be guided by three main principles:
1. the importance of protection
2. a commitment to partnership
3. a focus on the practical, real world, impact
The strategy goes on to set out the key actions OPSS intends to take in terms of reaching its objectives. The document also notes the challenges and opportunities of the product safety system including: changing market place, innovation and technology, the role of standards, frictionless trade at the border, harnessing the power of data in relation to product registration and recall.
Role of Scientific Evidence
The OPSS states it will be making the best use of scientific evidence, incident data, risk and intelligence in decision making. There is a large amount of data in existence which includes datasets from manufacturers and insurers, as well as regulators, health organisations, consumer groups and other Government departments. The OPSS is also seeking to continue to access tools such as RAPEX and the OECD Global Product Recall Portal.
One of the major challenges identified in this regard is the access to datasets. OPSS intends to work with the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) and the College of Medicine to explore the collection of accident data by Accident and Emergency Departments and the NHS to obtain better information of injury types and product hazards. Drawing on data from other sources such as the Fire Service, the European injury database, RAPEX, Market Surveillance Authorities such as the Health and Safety Executive, and the MHRA is identified as also being an area for continued work.
A new Scientific and Technical Advice Unit and a Strategic Research Programme have been established which will place science and evidence at the forefront of the OPSS’s work and the decisions it takes.
Role of Behavioural Science
The OPSS will also continue to explore the role and power of behavioural science to understand how best to impact consumer, retailer and producer behaviour in issues of recall, safety messages and safer goods, both new and second hand. This will include testing what forms of communication work best with different parties.
In March 2018, the OPSS launched the first Government-backed Code of Practice for product safety recalls, in partnership with BSI and using the findings of behavioural insights. The Code of Practice emphasises the importance of advance planning and the production of a product safety incident plan to ensure readiness to deal with any potential incident requiring corrective action. The Code also sets out how Member State Authorities should prepare to deal with incidents and how they can support businesses in proactive planning as well as in the monitoring of incidents and the implementation of corrective action.
Investing in Compliance
The OPSS is also committed to helping consumers to make informed choices and to give businesses the information they need to comply. It notes that investing in compliance makes economic sense for business, not least because of the direct and indirect costs involved with a failure to fulfil legal obligations. As part of accessing consumers and strengthening relationships, the OPSS will be establishing strong relationships with consumers and citizens groups including ROSPA, Electrical Safety First, Which? and Citizens Advice. There will also be work with the Intellectual Property Office to improve consumer awareness of the dangers of counterfeit products and the safety risks those goods can present.
In relation to industry engagement, regulatory and industry share a common goal in compliance. OPSS wants to work proactively with industry to address long-standing and emerging complex product safety challenges and to find practical solutions. OPSS wants to support businesses to ensure they understand product safety regulations and to this end it will be reviewing existing published guidance on GOV.UK to ensure that it is easy to use and accessible. The OPSS will also be reviewing the need for new industry guidance to ensure that there is continued investment in innovation to enable competitive advantage whilst meeting safety standards.
In relation to standards, the OPSS has funded access to British Standards so that local authorities can have access to technical information, including corrective action and recall, needed to assess compliance. There will be a review of emerging evidence of products that pose an unreasonable risk of harm where existing standards or regulations are insufficient, working alongside BSI.
Enforcement
The OPSS also intends to focus on enforcement. Acknowledging that effective enforcement requires action at multiple levels as product risks cross boundaries and borders, it states that it wishes to establish a close partnership with local authorities to maximise the strength of local enforcements whilst providing sufficient additional capacity to tackle national threats and complex cases.
As part of this enforcement review, OPSS will be focusing on strengthening Primary Authority partnerships. Primary Authority is a statutory mechanism that enables businesses, trade associations and other co-ordinated groups to receive assured advice from a single local authority. OPSS intends to establish a simple, transparent process, facilitated through the Trading Standards Co-ordination team, for primary authorities to request advice and support on product safety issues. It intends to work with companies to assess their management systems, conformity assessment processes and Technical Files, supporting industry to build compliance in from the start through intelligent design, both reducing the potential for safety issues and improving efficiency.
A further focus will be intercepting goods at borders by working with regional and national trading standards intelligence hubs and developing intelligence profiles to identify problem goods, importers and production patterns.
The strategy emphasises that businesses should continue to notify their local trading standards authority where they identify any possible safety concern with a product and to develop rapid incident response systems. It will put in place an infrastructure that equips the UK for future challenges and which will consist of further local authority collaboration and capability.
Other Developments
An ongoing review of product safety legislation will occur to ensure that the legal framework supports the outcomes it is set to achieve. Early areas for review are identified as toy safety and cosmetics regulations. Later this year, a more comprehensive review of how consumers want to access recall information will be launched, in order to build a new online database and notification service for consumers.
Existing product testing laboratories will be strengthened through additional investment in expertise and equipment and improve testing capabilities across local authorities. The three office locations in Birmingham (headquarters), London (policy hub) and Teddington (scientific hub) that are being established and expanded ensures that skills and competences are aligned and match resources to priorities.
The Government is investing £12 million per annum of new funding into building national capacity for product safety. This stands at £9 million of additional programme funding and £2 million of capital investment in the year 2018 – 2019 as the organisation is built and operations are scaled up. The OPSS will have a total operating budget of £25 million per annum and currently employ approximately 215 staff. This is planned to increase to approximately 300 by the end of the financial year.
Conclusion
The establishment of the OPSS is welcomed news. It is hoped that it will be well positioned to provide significant input in relation to maintaining and assisting operations of product safety laws in the UK. The test of its strategy will ultimately be the ability to deliver real world change and to improve consumer safety and confidence and develop greater business confidence and compliance. We wait to see with interest the next update in due course.