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Arco publishes recommendations on improving product safety

15 December 2021

LAST YEAR, as the UK responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, sub-standard safety equipment entered the market putting lives at risk and potentially costing lives. Earlier in the summer, the Government published its Product Safety Review, calling for evidence and recommendations on how to strengthen outdated legislation to protect consumers from unsafe products.

As its contribution to this debate, Arco, the UK’s leading provider of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), safety equipment and specialist safety services, has published a position paper: Towards a Safer Future Arco’s vision for a new, fit for purpose product safety framework to reflect on the lessons learnt during the pandemic, and to share its expertise and recommendations for building a stronger product safety framework, that is prepared and more resilient in future emergencies.

In its report, Arco has identified a number of vulnerabilities and threats to consumer safety that have arisen as a result of the growth of the digital economy, the challenges posed by post-Brexit regulatory changes, and the continued reliance on a fragmented system of regulation, monitoring, compliance and enforcement for product safety. 

With the recent experiences of the pandemic response fresh in the mind, Arco sees the creation of a new product safety framework as a critical requirement to ensuring the country is better prepared for future emergencies. This requires a full assessment of what is working and what is not.

In the paper, Arco looks at the current challenges and makes a series of recommendations in six key areas, focussing on harnessing innovation and expertise within the UK safety sector, building a system that is easy to navigate but harder to circumvent and developing a product safety framework that is fit for the future:

A new framework for high-risk PPE

Arco continues to campaign for the registration of all Category II and Category III PPE suppliers, held either by the Office for Product Safety and Standards or the Health and Safety Executive. This would enable the Government to respond swiftly and confidently to any future emergencies, certain of the expertise and quality of the suppliers they work with.

Strengthening the paper trail documenting a product’s safety

Under the current system of product certification, the CE or UKCA ‘Type Approval Certification’ is vulnerable to exploitation. Arco recommends that certification documents carry a photograph of the product tested; clearer rules to govern the documentary trail and a return to a system of annual surveillance of importers and distributors.

The right regulatory bodies, in the right place, with the right resources

A good regulator must be appropriately resourced and empowered in order to carry out the required market surveillance and regulatory checks to ensure the integrity of our product safety sector. There is strong concern within the safety industry about whether trading standards and the Health and Safety Executive are suitably resourced. OPSS should take on an expanded role as the UK’s single product safety regulator and be sufficiently funded to do this.

Establishing an authoritative source of guidance

For those procuring PPE and wanting to follow the rules or seek redress when things go wrong, it is often difficult to understand the guidance and know where to go for further support. Arco’s recommendations include establishing an authority to provide guidance to businesses dealing with regulated goods; a one-stop hub for consumers in need of guidance; a customer-focussed helpline; a communication platform for businesses and clear promotion to consumers as a source of support.

Regulation for a digital economy

Our current product safety  framework was written before the widespread adoption of online retail and Arco sees an urgent need to look at ways to reduce the risk but exploit the opportunities of digitalisation. Its recommendations include looking at the issues around online retailing; empowering OPSS when action is needed to remove unsafe products and creating a requirement for online retailers to halt sales as soon as concerns are raised.

Building a safe space for innovation

The pandemic has shown the value of agile research and development – the focus now should be on creating safe spaces for innovation and testing free from the necessary burden on regulation so that manufacturers can develop and deploy new tech faster to keep people safer.

Thomas Martin, Arco’s chairman said, “The creation of a new product safety framework is a task that we should see as lasting beyond the pandemic – and necessitates a full assessment of what is working, and what is not. There is an acute need to look at the structures that protect us from everyday risk, from substandard goods and unscrupulous businesses and we believe it is important to continue our work on what lessons can be learnt from the pandemic, to ensure the country can be better prepared for future emergencies. We are encouraged that BEIS and OPSS has recognised many of the themes and concerns we set out in this paper in their initial response to the Product Safety Review, and we look forward to working constructively with them and more widely across Government as they begin the work of developing proposals for more overarching legislative and regulatory reform.

“Our recommendations reflect the work of our experts, our experience as the UK’s leading safety company, as a major importer of regulated goods, and as a supplier to the UK Government and public sector. It reflects what we have said to Government, to Parliament and to our colleagues across the sector.  Together, we believe we can build a safer future.”

To see the full report visit: https://www.arco.co.uk/towards-a-safer-future-position-paper