2023 Predictions: Product safety will come under greater scrutiny

The UK has a reputation for strong product safety regulation, but with the ascent of the digital economy, these standards have proved increasingly challenging to uphold.

The pandemic showed how quickly large volumes of substandard and potentially dangerous products can find their way onto the market, with reports suggesting hundreds of millions of pounds were wasted on poor quality and unusable PPE during the global health crisis. While these kinds of statistics grab headlines, substandard products are something we deal with at the British Safety Industry Federation day in day out.

In addition to auditing our membership annually to verify their compliance and competence, the BSIF tests a selection of PPE from non-BSIF members. Between December 2021 and December 2022, we assessed a total of 118 non-member products. Only 15 (13%) of these products passed the audit, with the results for five of the products still pending. This means 98 products (83%) failed to meet the audit criteria, many of which are still available and being sold to unsuspecting users.

In the case of PPE, buyers and specifiers are responsible for ensuring that the products they buy are properly certified and approved but often, they won’t have the knowledge and resources to validate suppliers' claims. This means they may buy products that put the health and safety of their workers at risk along with the reputation of their business.

Safety equipment is not the only market to be affected by the availability of substandard and non-compliant products, and it is an area of growing concern to both businesses and regulators. We think change is afoot in this respect in 2023.

This will come in part through the introduction of a new post-EU Product Safety Framework. Timings for the framework publication are not yet clear, but there will be a strong focus on improving the safety and compliance of goods sold by third-party sellers on online marketplaces. This will likely include stricter responsibilities for online vendors and harsher penalties for failing to comply to protect consumers and businesses from the impacts of unsafe goods.

Aside from the introduction of the Product Safety Framework, as the ESG agenda grows, there is a general shift towards more responsible supply chains. Proactive companies are closely scrutinising the credentials of all their suppliers and choosing only to work with responsible companies. A growing number of private and public sectors organisations looking to take the risk out of PPE and safety product procurement are mandating the BSIF’s Registered Safety Supplier Scheme across their supply chains to ensure they only deal with suppliers who are compliant, competent and trustworthy.

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