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EU product safety

Avoiding product safety problems

In a 'nutshell'

Every year, unsafe and dangerous goods reach EU consumers and, unfortunately, many of these are produced in China. The EU’s ‘Safety Gate/RAPEX’ website provides up to date information as to which products are currently causing problems. Understanding what others are getting wrong may help you get things right!

If you’re selling goods within the EU, it’s important to understand the rules. Product requirements, such as those addressing safety standards and labelling, are mostly ‘harmonized’ in the EU. This means, the same rules apply in all EU member states.

The EU has developed a set of product rules, covering many product categories from electric products and textiles – to toys and cosmetics. For products for which no specific rules apply, further requirements cover general product safety. The rules can be subject to change as new risks emerge, so it’s important to keep on top of things.

KEY TASKS FOR MANUFAcTURES

Everyone in the chain of supply, from the manufacturer, importer, distributor to the retailer has some responsibility to ensure that the critical safety rules are met. However, there is a particular responsibility placed on the manufacturer. The manufacturer controls issues such as the design, production and ongoing checks to ensure conformity with the requirements. The manufacturer is in the best position to ensure products along the supply chain are safe. If safe products leave the factory, it is likely that everyone else supplying those products along the chain will therefore supply safe products and EU consumers will be protected. 

A STEP BY STEP APPROACH FOR MANUFACTURERS

To help ensure you only supply safe products to the EU’s single market, ask yourself the following questions.

If you make products which are intended to be supplied in the EU, you must be able to demonstrate that the products you make comply with relevant EU legal requirements before you supply them.

Once you have supplied a product, you remain responsible for its safety. This means you must provide consumers with adequate information so they can use it safely and ensure it can be traced back to your business if required.

A safe product is one that provides either no risk or a minimum acceptable level of risk, taking into account the normal or reasonably foreseeable use of the product and the need to maintain a high level of protection for consumers.

What is safe is therefore determined by considering all the important aspects of the product. This includes, how it is designed, how it is manufactured, and any potential risks in its use, particularly for children and elderly people.

For many product sectors there is specific safety legislation (covering, for example, toys, electrical goods etc.), which sets out more detailed safety requirements applicable to those products.

Although the safety requirements are set out in general terms, the interpretation and practical guidance to compliance can be found in technical standards (harmonised standards). As a manufacturer, it is often simpler and easier to follow such standards although the choice is yours.

One way to demonstrate compliance with relevant product safety requirements is to follow agreed standards for the design and manufacture of your product type. Certain standards provide a ‘presumption of conformity’, which means that products complying with them are deemed to be safe in relation to the areas they cover. These are known as harmonised standards and are listed on the European Commission website.

Conformity assessment is the process that you follow as a manufacturer before you supply certain types of product (e.g., toys and electrical products). It is a process that enables you as a manufacturer to make a declaration that the product meets all the requirements that apply to it.

For some products, conformity assessments can be done by you as the manufacturer. Other products require them to be carried out by an independent organisation, known as a ‘notified’ body.

Not only must products conform – there must also be documentary proof. As the manufacturer you will need to draw up a declaration of conformity.

In addition to the conformity declaration, you have to create a technical file which is the written justification that all aspects of a product are safe.

The ‘CE’ mark is a well-recognised mark seen on many products. It indicates that a product complies with all relevant EU product legislation. This explains why you find the CE mark on everything from toys to laptop chargers. The CE mark is mandatory, if the EU rules require its use.  

However, a product that is not covered by such a law must not carry the CE mark (for example, products covered only by general product safety requirements) Products covered only by general product safety requirements must still be safe for consumers.

The CE mark is placed on the product by the manufacturer and its purpose is to enable the free movement of those products within the EU’s internal market. The CE mark therefore indicates both that the product complies with all applicable legal requirements and allows the product’s free movement between EU member states.

Even the best managed businesses will occasionally make mistakes and from time to time, unsafe products may end up reaching EU consumers. The critical thing is that matters are put right as quickly as possible and lessons learned to ensure the situation does not arise again. There are a range of possible legal sanctions that could be applied to EU businesses involved in the supply of the product which can be the subject of recall. EU businesses themselves only want to supply safe products and do not want the extra cost and reputational damage associated with getting things wrong. They will want to trade with businesses in China who can assure them that they will be supplied with safe and compliant products. Following the EU’s product safety rules makes good business sense.

SELLING ONLINE? YOU ALSO NEED TO KNOW

Increasingly, EU consumers are buying products online and these may be from merchants based in China (who may also be manufacturers). The core product safety requirements and therefore the responsibility of a manufacturer to ensure they’re safe remain unchanged. However, extra rules apply to sales which take place online and these are designed to help EU market surveillance authorities carry out their work and to provide extra levels of protection for consumers. Further responsibilities will be applied from July 2021 contained in new market surveillance regulations. These will have particular implications for those selling online, so keeping up to date with these changes is particularly important.

ALWAYS SAFE

The step by step approach applies to products for which specific sector safety rules apply (for example for toys and many electrical goods used in the home). Remember, there is further legislation on general product safety which can be thought of as ‘catch all’. It applies to all the products which are not covered by their own, sector specific requirements. Examples of such products include many childcare products and children’s clothing.

Everyone in the chain of supply, from the manufacturer, importer, distributor to the retailer has some responsibility to ensure that the critical safety rules are met. However, there is a particular responsibility placed on the manufacturer. The manufacturer controls issues such as the design, production and ongoing checks to ensure conformity with the requirements. The manufacturer is in the best position to ensure products along the supply chain are safe. If safe products leave the factory, it is likely that everyone else supplying those products along the chain will therefore supply safe products and EU consumers will be protected. 

 

STAY INFORMED

SPEAC NEWS

Catch up on the latest big news on non-food consumer product safety in EU and China, as well as the conducted and upcoming activities of SPEAC. To understand policy trends and our work, please keep an eye on this part.

SPEAC finder

Knowledge hub on key product safety requirements, with a smart search engine on internal database (repository of information) and externally such as on the EU legal database and the information about the RAPEX system.

The SPEAC finder is under construction and will be online tentatively in the mid of 2021!

SPEAC E-Learning Platform

Everything you need to know about EU product safety and that you can learn online at your own pace, on your own, in a structured way. Feel free to build your own curriculum and select the modules of interest from the offer, according to your needs. This comes in addition to the direct training formats.

The SPEAC e-learning platform is under construction and will be online tentatively in the second half of 2021!
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