Last week, product safety professionals attended the ICPHSO International Symposium in Dublin. It was a gathering of leaders in product safety and regulation from around the world. The theme of the conference was “Shaping the future in times of international change” and ICPHSO saw a record number of attendees, as well as keynote speakers such as CPSC Commissioner Peter Feldman, Pinuccia Contino, Head of the RAPEX Unit at the European Commission, and Patrick Kenny of the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). The two day conference was an opportunity for product manufacturers to engage with regulators and other stakeholders on key and emerging issues facing their businesses, as well as to network with peers to discuss policies and strategies.

We are pleased to bring you some of the highlights coming out of the many interesting sessions.

European Commission priorities

Contino laid out six key priorities in the Commission:

  1. Coordinated activities for safety of products (“CASPs”). These can focus on particular products such as toys, batteries, charges, e-scooters and e-bikes. Participating Member States test products, meet to discuss the results, and to take decisions.
  2. The EU is also working on legislation on AI. We can expect more detail to come in the first 100 days of the Presidency. Contino mentioned that more scientific knowledge and expertise is required and that there is a new call for an expert group.
  3. The importance of increasing the effectiveness of product recalls.
  4. The Product Safety Pledge: a 12 point voluntary commitment for marketplaces, which lays out commitments that go further than legislative obligations.
  5. The EU Product Safety Awards, inspired by a long-standing awards process used by METI in Japan.
  6. International cooperation: it is vital that consumers are not treated differently because of where they are. Product safety should not be a luxury. This requires increased cooperation in order to increase the benchmark for product safety.

Contino spoke of turning “silent victories” into loud ones, highlighting the recently introduced EU Product Safety Awards. Contino explained that these were a great way to celebrate loud victories, where companies have put safety at the forefront. The concept was echoed in a panel moderated by Cooley’s Claire Temple, highlighting the importance of board-level buy-in. Loud victories are a great example of a “carrot” to get decision makers on-board with a product safety programme, ensuring that the safety of its consumers are at the core of what it does.

Updates from the Irish regulator

Patrick Kenny from CCPC discussed the reorganisation of his department and the establishment of a product safety division. Kenny reflected on the importance of the integrity of the single market to product safety and identified new ways that the CCPC will seek to protect consumers, along with other regulators across the EU. The CCPC is currently reevaluating its procedures for monitoring and compliance for product safety, as products continue to be manufactured and distributed in new ways. The CCPC also intends to be more proactive, which will involve more onsite inspections, in retail and wholesale to increase CCPC presence in the marketplace. Communication is key, and the CCPC will work to instruct firms on to how to be compliant.

Kenny also mentioned that the CCPC is seeking to assist in policy discussions around information sharing to ensure consistency across the EU borders. This will be increasingly importance in the context of Brexit, which has highlighted the role of market surveillance, and product safety, and its role in the economy as part of the free movement of goods. More resources have been allocated for this purpose.

Consumer insights: from instructions to recall effectiveness

Ensuring the consumer is at the heart of product safety also means recognising the valuable information that consumers can give other stakeholders, helping make products safer and corrective actions more effective.

Consumer feedback on instructions is a really helpful way to understand how they are using a product, including where there are potential stumbling blocks that could pose a risk. For example, one speaker highlighted that a third of assembled products are assembled incorrectly. Consumers are a diverse population and this may mean that instructions should be adapted accordingly. One example given was baby products, where one panellist suggested that instructions should reflect that the parents reading them are likely to be sleep deprived and therefore in need of clear, simple, instructions. One set of homogenous instructions may not work from a cultural perspective either: while consumers of some nationalities may prefer a very direct approach, others may not.

The EU Commission released a report from its survey on consumer behaviour and recall effectiveness in April of this year. You can find it here. This is another key area where consumer insight can help companies and other stakeholders to improve consumer product safety. It shows that there are a number of variable factors that will influence the effectiveness of a campaign, including the product, communications, strategy and so on. A third of consumers said they continue to use a product after seeing a recall notice. There is ongoing discussion amongst regulators about the best way to improve the effectiveness of recalls, including through facilitating direct consumer contact and increasing response rates (such as incentivising consumers to publicise a recall themselves).

Regulators discussed new technologies

New technologies like IOT and AI continue to be a prominent theme of the ICPHSO conferences as these technologies develop and complex questions continue to arise about their use, regulation and safety. It was clear that both manufacturers and regulators alike continued to grapple with these issues, and increased regulation and scrutiny should be anticipated. Kevin Nolan, President and CEO at GE Appliances, emphasised that where companies are innovating, they also need to anticipate new types of vulnerabilities and develop solutions accordingly.

Contino announced that the EU is working on new legislation intended to deal with artificial intelligence. More information is expected on this within the first 100 days of the new EC Presidency (expected to start on 1 December 2019). The EU has also recently introduced a Cyber Security Act which, amongst other things, aims to establish a framework for European cybersecurity certification schemes by June 2020.

Commissioner Feldman talked about how consumer preference drives new products and how CPSC has hired the first chief technologist. The CPSC is working with sister agencies who share interests on IOT. Richard O’Brien from the US CPSC discussed a CPSC staff working document on IOT. A working group with other federal agencies and regulators continues the discussion. He confirmed that the CPSC does not currently consider data protection or privacy issues to be a consumer product hazard unless they are associated with a risk of injury. He highlighted that manufacturers or IOT products must comply with traditional product requirements, but also others such as rules on consumer originated data, telecommunications and security.

Changes on the horizon: the circular economy

We also saw the start of a discussion on the impacts of the circular economy on product safety. Legislative and policy change is seen at a local and international level at growing speed and in some cases, there are changes reflected in traditional product safety and compliance legislation. For example, the EU has recently adopted a package of legislation under the Ecodesign Directive setting out EU wide rules on reparability availability of spare parts and access to repair and maintenance information for certain energy related products. You can read more about this on our Productwise blog here. These new rules will be particularly interesting from a product safety perspective where, for example, there is a safety issue and third party repairs have been carried out using parts supplied by the original manufacturer. There are also changes expected to producer responsibility legislation in the EU, which will require producers to meet a higher proportion of recycling costs. Member States like the UK are also developing their own national initiatives, such as plastic packaging taxes of deposit return schemes.

A key area for companies is to obtain local law advice on their EPR obligations as well as on the rules that apply to “recyclable” or “biodegradable” claims to ensure they are not making claims that are not compatible with local laws. Something else to watch out for is interaction with consumer laws, for example if a company is to offer a commercial warranty for certain (lengthier) periods for certain products, they may be exempt from complying with the producer responsibility requirements or have lesser obligations, on the basis that they are producing less waste.

We expect to see greater scrutiny and development in this area as countries continue to focus on sustainability.

Annual Symposium: Orlando 2020

The dates for ICPHSO’s 2020 Annual Symposium are now set: 22 – 25 February 2020. Make sure you save the date and register early. We look forward to seeing you there for further great discussion and networking opportunities.