The tragic Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June brings into sharp focus the importance of having an effective product safety system in place, with clear guidance for manufacturers, high levels of engagement from consumers and sufficient resource to help and support regulatory authorities.
Prior to this event, the UK Government was already reviewing the UK's product safety and recall system. On 19 July, it published the recommendations of its Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety (the "Report"). The Working Group was set up in October 2016 (with two Partners from Baker McKenzie, John Leadley and Kate Corby, as members) to develop options to improve the system of product recalls and safety, building on the review carried out by Lynn Faulds Wood.
The recommendations contained in the Report represent a step forward in working towards improving the effectiveness of the product safety and recall system. The recommendations include the following points.
1.Code of Practice - One of the key recommendations made by the Working Group is to work with the British Standards Institute ("BSI") to create a Code of Practice for businesses and regulators on best practice for corrective action. This process is already underway. The Code is expected to include, for example, guidance on when to make a notification, how to carry out a risk assessment and how Primary Authority partnerships should work.
2.Improving consumer engagement- An important way of improving the effectiveness of the product recall system is to increase the response rate to recalls. The Working Group therefore recommended encouraging consumers to register appliances and other consumer goods. For the same reason, the Government recently launched a new webpage with collated information about which white goods, food, medicines, medical devices, motor vehicles etc have recently been recalled.
3.Resource for regulatory authorities - The Working Group recommended setting up a central scientific and technical resource to help support effective decision making, e.g., when assessing a complex risk assessment. One idea proposed by the Working Group is for the UK Government BEIS officials to act in a "supporting regulator" role for Primary Authorities.
4.Sharing information - Another recommendation of the Working Group is to establish systematic and sustainable ways to capture and share data and intelligence (for example, there are ad hoc arrangements in place for sharing information between the Fire Service and Trading Standards but no direct link between their electronic information sharing systems).
The Working Group will continue working with the Government on finalising and implementing its plans to improve the recall system, and will consider a number of additional issues following the Grenfell fire (as requested by Margot James MP).
The Government is expected to respond to the Working Group's recommendations in Autumn 2017.