Commission publishes product safety review

29 January 2008

Tim Hesselink, Chiara Klaui

Following a “summer of recalls”, the European Commission (“Commission”) has reviewed the current European and international legislative framework governing product safety to identify its strengths and weaknesses.

One of its findings was that manufacturers and importers must ensure safety from design to factory by checking that all components respect the existing regulations and norms and that the final product is safe to use.

Legislative framework

Although the Commission is of the opinion that the legislative framework for consumer product safety is ensuring a high level of consumer protection, it has decided to focus on the enforcement thereof.

It is for this reason that the Commission has laid down a proposal to revise the existing Council Directive 88/378/EEC on the safety of toys. A second example of the Commission’s focus on enforcement is the planned revision of the safety rules for cosmetics.

Lack of enforcement

There are four key findings on the lack of enforcement of the legislative framework regarding consumer product safety.

  • The industry must take its full responsibilities


Manufacturers and importers are ultimately responsible for ensuring that only safe products are placed on the market, as laid down in Directive 2001/95/EC on general product safety. To this end, they must ensure safety from design to factory first and foremost by checking that all components respect the existing regulations and norms and that the final product is safe to use.

Because of the constant stream of RAPEX notifications regarding unsafe toys, the European Commission and the industry have agreed on a range of measures to build the confidence in the sector. These measures include a comprehensive audit of business safety measures in the toy supply chain, the results of which will be delivered in the first quarter of 2008, and industry education and training on EU toy safety standards for Chinese partners and other markets.



  • National authorities must do more


Another priority area is traceability, the requirements of which are currently limited to the EU. The European Commission has decided to address the issue of better traceability, including the possibility of clearer requirements for traceability in the consumer goods sector, going all the way to the source of a product.

One of the priority areas is the safety requirements for magnets in toys. Since there is currently no relevant standard, the Commission will use provisions of Article 13 of Directive 2001/95/EC on general product safety to draft targeted measures, requiring appropriate warnings about the dangers of magnets in toys.

EU Article 13 lays down the right of the Commission to require Member States to take certain measures, in the event that it has become aware of possible health and safety risks of certain products. These measures include a ban on the marketing of a product as well as the immediate withdrawal of a dangerous product from the market.


  • Closer co-operation with the United States


Since the EU and the United States are facing the same challenge with regard to product safety and import controls, increased co-operation, particularly through the establishment of a joint working group on product/import safety under the Transatlantic Economic Council, is required.


  • More progress in co-operation with China


China will introduce a new domestic alert system, based of the RAPEX system, as well as continue to improve its enforcement actions with regard to the RAPEX notifications of dangerous consumer goods.

The EU-China Trade project will also carry out a study of product safety control mechanisms in place in China, to identify areas for further co-operation.


Conclusion

In order to improve the enforcement of the legislative framework aimed at preventing unsafe products from being brought onto the European market, the Commission has decided to take certain measures, in a specific relation to toys and in general, the most important of which are:

  • A review of Council Directive 88/378/EEC on the safety of toys

  • An EU-wide measure on warnings of magnetic toys

  • Work on better traceability, including the possibility of clearer traceability requirements going all the way to the source of the product

  • Closer co-operation between the European Union on the one hand and the United States and China on the other

Please note this requires all manufacturers and importers to focus on the EU safety requirements for products being (contract) manufactured outside the EU. Not meeting these requirements will in general lead to an import prohibition by local authorities.