What you need to know about and do to comply with the law and keep consumers safe.
If you make, import, distribute or sell consumer products in the UK, you are responsible for making sure they are safe for consumers to use and following the legal requirements in relation to labelling.
You could face action if a product is found to be unsafe or causes harm to consumers, including legal action.
Understanding the law on product safety
Products should only be sold if their compliance with product safety regulations has been demonstrated appropriately.
The General Product Safety Regulations 2005 (GPSR) require all products to be safe in their normal or reasonably foreseeable usage and enforcement authorities have powers to take appropriate action when this obligation isn’t met.
There are also specific regulations for some product sectors, setting out essential safety requirements. Where there’s crossover with the GPSR, the product-specific legislation usually takes precedence.
While the various regulations still cover the UK following the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, their provisions are now applied differently in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Consequently, there is separate guidance for businesses selling products in these areas. This will continue to be the case while the Northern Ireland Protocol is in force.
Manufacturers and importers placing products on the UK market need to demonstrate that they comply with relevant safety requirements. This basically involves:
- minimising the risks associated with the product
- generating and keeping records of associated technical documentation
- placing appropriate labelling on the product
- providing instructions on how to use it safely
The use of agreed standards covering aspects of the product or its production process – where these exist – is one way to demonstrate compliance.
Following the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, businesses bringing products into Great Britain from the EU are now likely to be importers rather than distributors, with extra legal responsibilities for demonstrating compliance.
If your business sells consumer products in the UK, you must not sell products that you know – or should have known – are unsafe.
You need to keep records identifying the suppliers of the products you sell to allow their origins to be traced.
If you’re made aware of any safety risks or consumer incidents related to a product you’ve sold, you have a legal duty to report these to the manufacturer, supplier or your local Trading Standards service. If you don’t do this, you could become liable in the event of harm to a person or damage to property.
Corrective action, recalls and safety incidents
Businesses that make, import, distribute or sell consumer products in the UK are all responsible for their safety.
For example, if a manufacturer discovers that a product it has sold represents a safety risk, it must take action to remedy the issue. This could include issuing new instructions, modifying the product, or requiring consumers to stop using the product and return it for a refund. The manufacturer must contact all the consumers it knows are affected to alert them to the issue and tell them what they should do.
The Code of Practice on Product Recalls provides best practice guidance on how businesses should prepare for and respond to product safety incidents.
Product safety liability and insurance
Manufacturers, and sometimes others involved in a product’s supply chain, are liable for their products under the Consumer Protection Act 1987.
This means that if the product is unsafe and causes personal injury or death to any person, or damage to private property, you could be sued for compensation.
For this reason, many businesses take out appropriate product liability insurance. Note that this is not the same as general business or employer’s liability insurance.
Product safety advice and enforcement
Advice and support for manufacturers and importers is available in Great Britain from Local Authority Trading Standards, and in Northern Ireland from Local Authority Environmental Health. Information is also available from Business Companion. Contact your local authority service to request advice or to set up a primary authority arrangement covering product safety (enabling your business to form a legal partnership with one local authority, which then provides assured and tailored advice on complying with regulations that local regulators must respect).
Local authorities are responsible for investigating allegations of non-compliance, conducting market surveillance by examining and testing products to check they are safe, and prosecuting serious offences. They have a full suite of powers to enter premises, inspect goods, issue notices, obtain evidence, request technical documents, and more.
The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) enforcement staff are authorised with similar investigatory powers covering the UK and will investigate allegations of non-compliance that are national, novel or contentious in scope. We work closely with local authorities to support their work and to share intelligence. We take a risk-based and proportionate approach to our enforcement activities, operate under the Regulators’ Code and follow the OPSS enforcement policy.