The Electrical Safety Council, which is a UK-wide consumer safety charity, has produced recent research which shows that an alarmingly low percentage – just 10-20% – of recalled electrical products are ever actually returned, a figure which potentially exposes people in the UK to the risk of fire or electrocution.
There seem to be two reasons for this low return figure.
Firstly, only 5-10% of people fill in their registration cards for new items, largely because they believe that the information required is used for unwelcome marketing purposes, and because the safety reason for the cards is not made clear to them strongly enough. The ESC’s research discovered that more than half of the people who took part said they would be more likely to register their products if they were assured that their personal details were only included in case of a need to recall the item, and were definitely not to be used for marketing purposes.
Secondly, the current fine for manufacturers who take inadequate and ineffectual action when recalling items is only £5,000, a penalty which is not severe enough to encourage active recall strategies.
To address these two reasons and the overall concerns about the recall of possibly unsafe equipment, the ESC has drawn up various proposals to improve the system.
First of all it is outlining proposals to set up a new independent but centralised product registration system, to establish a database co-ordinated by the charity itself, to encourage consumers to register their products with no fear of intrusive marketing implications. It aims to simplify the process for consumers by asking them to submit their details at the point of purchase – be it online or in-store – (rather than relying on them to complete registration cards afterwards). From the manufacturers’ point of view this would immediately simply the process for them to trace their products to a much larger number of consumers, making it much easier for them to respond quickly and effectively in the case of a recall.
With a further suggestion to simplify the process, the ESC is calling on Trading Standards to set out clear and unambiguous guidelines on exactly what manufacturers must do if they have sold a product which needs to be recalled. And in addition, it is requesting legislation to impose tougher penalties on manufacturers who, even in those simplified conditions, do not respond effectively or speedily; it suggests that those penalties should be fines based on a percentage of the profits made on the recalled product, thus tailoring the penalty to the offence.
The suggested registration database would need the backing of the industry to be able to operate effectively, and so will be presented at a Product Safety Conference organised by the ESC to take place on 16 May 2013 in London. Representatives from the whole industry, including Beko, Bosch, the British Retail Consortium and Trading Standards will take the first step on a consultation process to tackle the whole issue by discussing the ESC’s proposals.
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