This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.
Date Published: 30 September 2021
The consequences of unsafe products are serious and not to be under-estimated. The Grenfell Tower fire started from a faulty fridge freezer, and serious or even fatal injuries have been sustained by children playing with dangerous toys. The nature of safety risks to consumers is changing significantly and fast, with one third of products now bought online, and 15% of products including smart technology that may be susceptible to hacking. In addition, the growth of home sellers means that there is an additional challenge in helping businesses understand their responsibilities. The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) was established in 2018 to try and tackle these challenges, however there is more to be done to provide suitable protection for consumers and future proof against these fast-emerging changes.
Crucially, the OPSS’s data and intelligence are limited and do not yet support it to fully understand risks to consumers and respond in a proactive and timely way. For example, its response to safety problems from small high-powered magnets, which caused 40 paediatric admissions in the UK in 2020 alone, was slowed by data limitations. It is also not yet doing enough to communicate regulatory responsibilities to businesses and product safety risks to consumers, and it needs to coordinate its activities more effectively with local regulators, other government departments and international partners.
There are also weaknesses in the overall regulatory regime that mean it is not fit to address the challenges it faces. These include important gaps in the regulatory framework, such as regulators’ powers to effectively regulate goods sold online. There are serious challenges for regulators’ skills and capacity, particularly in light of a 39% real-terms funding reduction for local Trading Standards services in the past 10 years and new responsibilities for both national and local regulators following EU Exit. Trading Standards’ capacity varies significantly between local authorities and yet this public facing and local element of regulation is a vital part of the system and needs to be funded accordingly. Government has a good awareness of the key issues but lacks a detailed plan to ensure the future direction of UK product safety regulation will be fit for purpose. The additional responsibilities for safety of building materials are also significant and it is vital that the OPSS is properly funded to develop this new responsibility quickly and effectively.