Graham Russell, Chief Executive of the Office for Product Safety and Standards, explains why consumer confidence in the safety of products is at the core of what the organisation does
Consumer confidence in the safety of products is at the core of what the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) does. Right from the start (the Office was set up in January 2018), ministers wanted the Office to make its presence felt, so the past year or so has been about delivering results while building national capacity for product safety.
The Office’s work is evidence-based. In August 2018, OPSS published the UK’s first national product safety strategy – ‘Strengthening National Capacity for Product Safety’ – along with the Strategic Research Programme, to produce high quality strategic science-based research to strengthen the evidence base for the development of product regulation policy, delivery and enforcement.
The strategy document was a major milestone and underpins the Office’s aim to support frontline regulatory officers and step in where its expertise and national reach are required – for instance, the ongoing concerns over Whirlpool tumble-dryers. Practical measures taken by the Office include developing the Code of Practice: Supporting Better Product Recalls (PAS 7100) with BSI, the UK’s national standards body and making it and other robust standards freely available to Trading Standards officers.
The Code, which also covers other corrective actions, is designed to help businesses plan in advance to deal with any potential product safety issue that might arise with products they have placed on the market or distributed. OPSS has trained 300 trading standards officers on implementing the Code and held regional workshops for business.
OPSS is also working with Trading Standards at key entry points to strengthen the UK’s ability to stop unsafe products at the border and has made an additional investment to support local authority led teams at points of entry in the UK, through National Trading Standards.
In product safety terms, the landscape has changed considerably with a profusion of products, innovative and diverse means of manufacturing them and new ways of selling them to the public. Again, confidence for consumers and businesses is a central theme.
The same technological developments driving these changes can be harnessed to enhance protections, for instance, internet-enabled products to alert householders and manufacturers when there is a potential fault.
Good intelligence is essential and the OPSS Intelligence unit shares data and intelligence with partners, including local authority trading standards, National Trading Standards, Citizens Advice and the Intellectual Property Office. OPSS is also commissioning research into consumer behaviour to support evidence-based policy and help get more people to register their products to make them easier to recall.
More widely, the Office’s Local Regulatory Delivery team is busy driving Better Business for All, which brings together businesses and regulators, creating partnerships to identify issues facing local businesses and find ways to support them. Technical support for regulators goes hand in hand with supporting businesses to comply – and when the two are working together the results are likely to be better.
The Office has been building its scientific and technical expertise and resources and its NMO Technical Services facilities in Teddington play a significant role in conformity assessment – an important way to support confidence in goods and services i.e. by providing assurance to consumers that their products or services meet specified requirements. It can also help businesses to compete where conformity assessment and accreditation are required.
This work supports the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy which seeks to ensure that regulation is as simple as possible for businesses. That means supporting businesses to comply with regulation at a local level. One of the most important frameworks for this is Primary Authority, administered by OPSS, which enables businesses to receive assured advice from a single local authority, which other regulators must consider.
The Industrial Strategy states that: “All businesses choosing to set up a Primary Authority partnership will have access to assured advice, with support from Growth Hubs”. OPSS is currently working on pilots with Growth Hubs to make this a reality and is supporting Local Enterprise Partnerships in translating and coordinating regulatory frameworks that focus on local business needs, simplifying the way regulation is delivered.
The UK Government’s top priority is to keep people safe and Britain’s product safety requirements are among the highest in the world. At the start, I said consumer confidence in the safety of products is at the core of what OPSS does and we see the purpose of all our work as protecting people.
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Chief Executive Officer
Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
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