On 21 January 2018, the government announced the creation of a new Office for Product Safety and Standards (“OPSS”) to help manage large-scale product recalls and identify risks to consumers.
The OPSS will have oversight over product safety for general consumer goods (such as electrical goods and cosmetics) but it will not have any enforcement powers, which are to remain with local Trading Standards offices.
The creation of the OPSS comes in the wake of a number of high-profile news stories concerning faulty products (particularly “white goods”) and the fire risks that they pose and follows a statement from Parliament’s Business Committee that there is a “strong case” for a national product safety authority.
What is the OPSS’ function?
The OPSS is based within the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and its remit is to provide scientific and technical support for general consumer products. It will not, however, regulate medicines, medical devices, work place equipment or food products, which are themselves regulated by their own specialist agencies already in existence.
It is intended that the OPSS will manage responses to large-scale product recalls and help identify risks to consumers. Furthermore, in addition to providing support and advice for local authority Trading Standards teams, the OPSS will also coordinate work across local authorities where action is needed on a national scale. Following Britain’s exit for the EU, it is intended that the OPSS will carry out appropriate boarder checks on imported products.
Reaction to the creation of the OPSS
The creation of the OPSS has generally been welcomed as a positive development for consumers.
In particular, it should provide consumers with greater confidence that products purchased have been manufactured to an appropriate standard and provide a central line of communication from which to disseminate information about products, including where recalls are required. This, it is hoped, will remove some of the inconsistencies that can arise when dealing with local Trading Standards offices.
Some consumer rights groups have, however, expressed concern that whilst the creation of the OPSS should be a positive step, it will be having to operate within a very limited annual budget (£12million) and will have no enforcement powers. It is, therefore, questionable whether on these terms the creation of the OPSS is likely to bring about any meaningful benefit to consumers and scrutiny over manufacturers.
What does the future hold for the OPSS?
The basis on which the OPSS has been established suggests that the government is currently testing out the idea of having a central authority for nonspecialist products, rather than being fully committed to it.
However, if the OPSS is successful in its early stages, it is possible that its powers will later be expanded and its budget increased.
The creation of the OPSS is at least a statement of intent that the government remains committed to taking the issue of product safety seriously and ensuring that consumers are well informed in respect of risks that they may face.