Responsibility for product safety rests with the producer

13.10.2014 16.30
News item N5-65209
Products and services have to meet standards set by law. Market surveillance authorities monitor product safety. "Supervision is a subsequent procedure, and by law it is the duty of the producer. The condition of product must also be ensured within the supply chain. In future, there will be greater emphasis on this," explains Pirje Lankinen, Ministerial Advisor at the MSAH's Department for Occupational Safety and Health.

There are a couple of dozen supervisory authorities in Finland, as many product categories, such as pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs and chemicals, are subject to their own legislation. The MSAH Department for Occupational Safety and Health is responsible for supervisory matters concerning machinery, devices and personal protective equipment used in the workplace. Occupational safety and health (OSH) officials cooperate with the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency, which among other things monitors consumer products.

In the EU, market surveillance for non-food products is the responsibility of the member states. Relevant national authorities check whether products meet the applicable safety requirements, they take necessary steps to make sure that products are compliant, and apply sanctions when necessary.

Only a fraction of the millions of products on the market can be inspected each year. Supervision is risk-based and relies on user feedback or the authorities' own assessment of possible product hazards.

Half fulfil requirementsOSH officials examine hundreds of products each year during OSH inspections, and in shops, at trade fairs and based on reports from customers. Pirje Lankinen says that about half of the products inspected meet the required standards while the rest do not. To the layperson, the number of products that require alteration seems massive.

"It's not always to do with a major problem. It might be that there is just something missing from the user's manual." Other documents must also be in order. Products must carry the CE conformity marking, for products sold within the European Economic Area, and the declaration of conformity, and some products must be accompanied by a type examination certificate.

Most of the deficiencies that are detected can be rectified within the OHS jurisdiction of Finland's five Regional State Administrative Agencies. Solutions may involve instructing a manufacturer on a particular course of action or a temporary ban during which the problem can be corrected. If a manufacturer fails to comply, the ministry steps in.

"A product may be corrected while being dealt with by the ministry, or otherwise we have to resort to a decision prohibiting it. This involves a ban on the product's sale and use, and obliges that it is recalled from distributors and customers. The decision is backed up with a penalty fine." Lankinen says that the ministry makes several prohibition decisions each year.

Verifying safetyIt is not always easy for manufacturers to figure out what is required of a product. Some products are subject to several areas of legislation, while with others there has not been enough time to regulate anything. Lankinen points out, though, that all products are subject to basic regulations.

" It is not allowed to put products on the market that endanger health and safety. There are quicker ways than legislation of verifying safety, such as by tests conducted at testing facilities and standardisation."

Product safety and its supervision fall within the sphere of European Union regulations. In the media, such activity sometimes comes over as excessively bureaucratic, when the rules applying to individual products are focussed on. Though the bigger picture is often missing from such discussion, Lankinen understands the criticisms.

"Legislation is often difficult to understand. But the authorities have to follow the law in their duties."

It is also not always easy to define the responsibility of a manufacturer. "Sometimes it is hard to follow the course of a product to the point of manufacture. In the future this will be made easier, so that all those who are a part of the supply chain will have to keep records for 10 years on where a product was purchased from and where it was delivered."

The EU has long been preparing a new regulation on market surveillance. This is needed particularly as market surveillance has not pace with the changes in the single market context. With the circulation of products throughout a large single market area, market surveillance needs to be highly coordinated and capable of responding quickly.

The European Parliament and Council of the EU have been discussing a package of measures to improve consumer product safety and market surveillance within the EU area. Work on the new market surveillance regulation was stalled for some time, but has been continuing this autumn. Lankinen expects that the new regulation will include a few new points of emphasis.

"There may be broader information requirements for the authorities. Also, there will be an emphasis on the possibility for rectifying problems discovered in the surveillance process."

Text: Paula Mannonen