Supporting the frontline against the COVID-19 pandemic

frontline against the covid-19 pandemic
© Chayakorn Lotongkum

Office for Product Safety and Standards in the UK details their support of the frontline against the COVID-19 pandemic

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) has used its position at the heart of the UK’s regulatory system to work with partners across a range of activities to protect people and support business.

The epidemic required a rapid response from across government, local authorities, and many others, and OPSS has played a central role in providing information, guidance, technical insight and clarity.

The role of OPSS during the current COVID-19 pandemic

From the outset, OPSS answered personal protective equipment (PPE) enquiries from businesses, notified bodies and trade associations, supporting the UK Government’s priority to ensure the supply of safe PPE and other products critical to the coronavirus response whilst unsafe products were detected and detained. OPSS put in place two regulatory easement routes to streamline administrative processes and speed up supply of PPE to the NHS and the care sector.

Our business engagement included setting up an online forum for community groups to aid discussion and to identify what additional support could be provided; and our Intelligence, Ports and Enforcement teams worked closely with Trading Standards to ensure that non-compliant products were identified and either brought to compliance or removed from the market.

In addition to our work on PPE, OPSS coordinated business closures and then safe reopening, maintaining a steady stream of communications with local authority officers. OPSS provided a point of contact for local authorities seeking government guidance, helping them raise issues in a timely way while intelligence gathered by OPSS from the frontline has informed government policy changes in many sectors such as garden centres, click & collect, nightclubs, beauty salons and entertainment venues.

We ensured enquiries went to the right government department for them to respond, and where possible, provided information directly. In addition, OPSS analysed local authority activity on business closures during the first wave of the pandemic.

To build our understanding of how consumers react and respond to purchasing decisions during the first wave of the pandemic, OPSS commissioned three online surveys that tracked how perceptions changed over time. We ran these surveys during April, May and July 2020, focusing particularly on consumer goods relevant to the pandemic: face masks, hand sanitiser, UV wands, air purifiers. The surveys informed OPSS projects on online selling platforms and fed into discussions with the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

Our ability to help regulatory officers on the frontline (making regulation work for them as well as businesses and consumers) is greatly enhanced by having former local authority officers on the OPSS team. OPSS drafted the COVID-19 enforcement guidance for local authorities and provided a channel to other government departments for queries and concerns, giving answers where possible. Once we started to move towards businesses reopening, our role changed to support businesses in becoming COVID-secure.

Primary Authority, which is administered by OPSS, has proved a powerful support for businesses coping with the challenges of keeping staff and customers safe during the pandemic. The OPSS Local Delivery Team organised eight Primary Authority expert panels to assist various sectors meet the challenges of changes to legislation, covering: leisure, warehousing and manufacture, non-food retail, restaurants, hotels and catering, licensed premises, car sales and caravans and holiday parks.

The Panels provided an opportunity to discuss issues that were causing concern and find consistent solutions. We also brought in Whitehall colleagues responsible for the Safe Workplaces COVID-19 guidance to the Panels so local authorities could put their questions directly.

We have published the UK’s annual national market surveillance plan, which identifies the regulators involved and their role in market surveillance and this assisted OPSS in its initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing us to utilise our relationships with key stakeholders such as HSE & OFCOM.

The team has also been feeding into the COVID-19 intelligence-gathering national response, led by the National Crime Agency, to combat illicit activity by those seeking to take advantage of the pandemic.

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Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS)

+44 (0)121 345 1201


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