BMTA welcomes the National Audit Office Report ‘Protecting consumers from unsafe products’ published on 16 June. It examines the effectiveness of the Office of Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) which was established in 2018 in its first 3 years of operation. BMTA gave evidence to the NAO in its enquiry leading to the Report.

The Report finds:

  • Safety requirements in the UK are widely considered to be appropriate for most products, and the OPSS is working to keep regulations up to date.

  • The regulators rely on influencing industry to comply with product regulations, but an estimated 24% of businesses are unaware of their responsibilities.

  • Consumer engagement with product safety is weak.

  • The OPSS’s ability to influence the safety of products being bought and sold is constrained by gaps in its understanding of consumers and industry.

  • The OPSS has made impactful responses to some high -profile national product safety issues since it was established in 2018.

  • The OPSS has been slower to address other serious areas of consumer harm as it does not have the data and intelligence it needs to assess consumer risks.

  • The OPSS has provided new forms of support to local Trading Standards services, which they have found helpful.

  • Despite these improvements national and local approaches are not yet well co-ordinated.

  • The OPSS has come to the end of its initial three year strategy and is currently considering how to regulate product safety in the years ahead.

  • The Government does not yet know the full product safety implications of EU exit but estimates that new responsibilities will cost regulators £9 million a year.

  • Product safety regulation has not kept pace with trends in online commerce where there are gaps in regulators’ powers.

  • Staffing and capacity challenges in Trading Standards services present risks to the sustainability of the regulatory system.

The NAO recommends that the OPSS should:

(a) Use its product safety review to set out clearly its vision for what product safety regulation should look like, and a detailed plan for how to get there.

(b) Speed up efforts to ensure that it has the data and intelligence it needs to identify and prioritise areas of most risk to consumers.

(c) Establish which consumers may be particularly vulnerable to unsafe products and in what circumstances.

(d) Work with local Trading Standards services to improve coordination between local and national regulation.

(e) Examine how best to influence businesses and consumers to prevent problems from occurring.

(f) Build on its work so far to ensure it has a meaningful way to measure performance and impact.

 

The Report has little to say about the importance of testing laboratories in ensuring product safety or of the significance of laboratory accreditation of this function.

 

The full 52 page Report (ISBN 978-1-78604-375-7) is available from The NAO at a price of £10.00

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