The UK could be flooded with a rising tide of unsafe toys, cars and white goods if the Government does not reform the consumer enforcement system, Which? is warning.
Analysis by the consumer champion shows that Safety Gate, a rapid warning system through which 31 European countries warn each other of products with serious safety problems, issued 34 per cent more alerts in 2018 than a decade ago.
Last year, the system flagged issues with 2,064 dangerous non-food products. This represents a rise of more than 500 since 2008, when the figure stood at 1,542. While part of the increase may be attributed to better reporting by authorities, the increase highlights the scale of unsafe products that must be tackled.
Once identified, action taken to ensure that they don’t pose a risk to consumers can include recalls, warnings or stopping products at the border. However, Which? is concerned that the consumer enforcement system is ill-equipped to handle such a volume of unsafe products, and it urgently requires a significant overhaul to ensure that people are effectively protected from harm.
The Safety Gate data shows that in 2018 toys and motor vehicles were the product categories with the highest number of safety notices, at 655 and 419 respectively. The number of safety notices for motor vehicles has more than doubled in the last 10 years, when it stood at 167, while alerts for toys has gone up by more than 150.
More than 200 items classified as ‘clothing, textiles and fashion’ were flagged as unsafe, while the alarm was raised for 176 products in the electrical appliances category and 121 for products listed as cosmetics.
In total, 180 products on the alert system were listed as a fire risk, 248 an electric shock threat and 397 a choke hazard last year.
This year has so far seen recall notices appear on the system for fire risk HP laptop batteries, explosive Honda airbags and a flammable children’s Star Wars Stormtrooper outfit.
UK authorities could face crucial delays in receiving surveillance information about unsafe products after Brexit, unless an agreement is in place with the EU. This is because the UK would no longer have access to vital intelligence sharing networks – such as the early warning system behind Safety Gate – meaning it would have to rely on its own domestic set-up or until the European alerts are made public.
This will serve as an additional hurdle for a domestic system that Which? has already said is crying out for reform. In the last year alone, the consumer champion has highlighted a number of dangerous products that could put consumers at risk including dodgy carbon monoxide alarms, unsafe car seats and toxic toy slime.
The strain is due to an existing set-up that is far too reliant on increasingly overstretched local authority Trading Standards Services. They are ultimately responsible for ensuring that unsafe products are taken off the shelves, out of people’s homes and stopped from entering the country, but this job is likely to be made more difficult if unsafe product alerts continue to increase and EU intelligence sharing is disrupted.
Which? believes that the Government must secure continued access to European alert and information sharing systems, as well as take the opportunity to build better intelligence sharing systems with countries outside the EU.
The Government should also establish the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) as an independent body. As the main regulator on product safety issues, the OPSS should take the lead on issues of national significance when required, as well as prepare for risks that may be posed by a potentially more complex trading environment once the UK has left the EU.
Caroline Normand, Which? Director of Advocacy said:
“With more products than ever before being declared unsafe, it’s clear that an already failing consumer enforcement system needs a major shake up to ensure that people aren’t left at risk from dangerous products in their homes.
“If it is to make people’s safety the number one priority, the Government must secure access to the European alert and information sharing systems after Brexit, as well as introduce major domestic reforms to ensure consumers are properly protected from unsafe products.”