In March 2021, the Office for Product Safety and Standards (“OPSS”) published a call for evidence seeking views on possible changes to the UK product safety regime post-Brexit, including to address new methods of manufacture and distribution, new products and technologies such as artificial intelligence, and environmental considerations. Following the deadline to respond to the consultation earlier this year – the OPSS reviewed the responses and, on the 11 November 2021, published its analysis. The government intends to use the information supplied, alongside wider evidence and research, to shape policy proposals for the UK’s product safety framework to ensure it is future facing and optimised for UK consumers, businesses and enforcement agencies.
Three key themes emerged from the call for evidence, those being; the need for an outcomes-focused and risk-based approach; the need to adapt to challenges and opportunities; and the need for greater simplicity, proportionality and consistency. Taking these themes in turn, firstly, the OPSS acknowledged that the UK’s current system of regulation is in need of modernisation in order to keep up with today’s models of supply and products. This is especially true given the advance of technology and its impact on how we buy products today, as shown by the growth of third-party listings on online platforms and the ability to buy directly from abroad. The respondents suggested that, to keep up with today’s models of supply and products, the government could impose higher requirements for tests, assessment and transparency for products presenting greater inherent hazard and, where relevant, higher levels of risk in the supply chain.
Secondly, the respondents noted that the future framework needs to be able to adapt in order to keep up with future supply chain and product innovation, and to avoid gaps in enforcement and facilitate safe innovation. The government should also go further to understand the product safety challenges faced by consumers at points of vulnerability, and expand access to data and evidence. As products become increasingly energy and resource efficient, in line with consumer concerns about the environment, it is important that consumers can have confidence in their safety.
Finally, the respondents addressed the need for greater simplicity, proportionality and consistency across legislation and powers. Many aspects of the current framework, such as efficient self-declaration systems and standards that offer a presumption of conformity, work well as they are. However, the future framework needs to be as simple and proportionate as possible. The OPSS acknowledged these concerns, and supported the need for legal definitions and enforcement powers across legislation, while also ensuring that regulation is always well-aligned with real life levels of inherent hazard and supply chain risk.
The OPSS’ response concludes by noting that, while the current framework has its strengths, it is facing “significant and growing challenges and needs to be radically reformed to be more adaptable and capable of responding to accelerating change”. The government recognises the need for a long-term approach and for there to be regulatory change to fully address the challenges raised by the respondents. In the meantime, immediate action can be taken in areas where legislation is not necessarily required – such as implementing measures to ensure consumers are protected when using the internet and that online markets remain fair, and addressing the need for greater simplicity, proportionality and consistency through training and guidance for enforcement authorities, and developing voluntary standards and tools to help businesses meet their legal duties when placing products on the market.
The Call for Evidence Response is available here.