In the guide
Product safety in the UK is governed by a wide regulatory framework consisting of both national and European-derived legislation. The laws apply to any business involved in the import, manufacture and supply of goods to consumers.
If your business carries out any of these activities, you are required to comply with the law and protect consumers by ensuring that your goods are safe.
If you cut corners on safety, you could face criminal prosecution, have to withdraw or recall products from the market and face legal action from consumers to recover damages for the harm caused.
Any products that are intended for consumers or reasonably likely to be used by them, even if not intended for them (such as heavy duty tools for DIY), are required to be safe. This applies whether the goods are new, reconditioned or second-hand.
This also includes items provided to consumers for use by them when being provided with a service, such as gym equipment or a hairdryer in a hotel room.Back to top
Products must be safe and comply when they are available for supply, or 'placed on the market'. This occurs when a manufacturer first makes the product available for further supply or when an importer takes ownership of the goods once they have been cleared by customs.
Products are 'supplied' when they are sold (including where they are exchanged for no money), hired (including hire purchase and letting) or lent to consumers, and includes where they are supplied as part of a contract for work. Even giving products as a prize or gift is supply.Back to top
What is a safe product?
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 characteristics of the product, how it is presented, the effect that it might have on other products it is likely to be used with and the consumers at risk when using it (especially children and the elderly).
For many product sectors there is specific safety legislation (covering, for example, toys, electrical goods and machinery), which sets out more detailed safety requirements applicable to those products. This legislation generally applies to both consumer and commercial products, but sets out the same safety criteria.
Although the safety regulations set out safety in general terms, the interpretation and practical guidance to compliance can be found in standards, available in the UK as British Standards (BS ENs). A producer can generally choose to use relevant standards to demonstrate that the goods are safe.Back to top
Responsibility for compliance
As stated above if you are involved in the supply of goods to consumers you are responsible for the safety of the goods you supply. The level of responsibility depends on whether you are involved in the actual production of the goods, where you are affecting the safety properties of the products ('producers') or merely involved with the supply ('distributors').Back to top
If you are a producer (importer, manufacturer, own-brander, re-conditioner, etc) then you are responsible for ensuring your products are safe and carry adequate instructions and warnings for consumers to use them safely.
You will also need to undertake some form of 'conformity assessment procedure', which is the means set out in the legislation by which the product is shown to be safe (such as by manufacturing to standards or being assessed by a third party). The record of this (the technical file) needs to be maintained for at least ten years.
Once in the supply chain, a producer is also required to have measures in place to be able to identify any risks or issues arising from a product's use so that urgent action can be taken quickly and effectively to trace it and take the necessary corrective action (including issuing a recall).
If you are a distributor (wholesaler, retailer, etc) you must not supply goods that you believe are dangerous. You are required to monitor the safety of the products you supply, passing on information to the producer and cooperating with them if they advise you of a problem. The legislation also requires you to retain records of supply, which must be kept for six years.
It is good practice as a distributor to request assurances from your supplier regarding compliance with the relevant regulations and standards; if possible request up-to-date relevant test certificates for the product.
Whatever role you fulfil, remember ultimately you have a duty to ensure that you only supply safe products. This duty exists whether that product is intended for consumers or for commercial use.
It is a criminal offence to place on the market or supply unsafe products. You could face criminal proceedings resulting in a fine and forfeiture of the goods, with the subsequent damage to your business.Back to top
In addition to the criminal law, product liability legislation gives consumers the right to sue for damages for injury caused by defective products. The Consumer Protection Act 1987 extends this protection in that it provides the same rights to anyone injured by a defective product, whether or not the product was sold to them.
For more detailed information please see the In-depth Guides below. Once you've finished, make sure you look at the full range of Quick Guides to see whether there are any other areas of law that affect your business.
Make sure you choose your location using the drop-down list at the top of the page. The In-depth Guides provide country-specific information as some laws are different in England, Scotland and Wales, and some are enforced differently
In-depth guidanceThis is a general guide and you may well need to know more; take a look below where we've listed our In-depth Guides on specific topics related to product safety
If you sell cosmetic products, they must be safe; there are specific requirements for composition and labelling
The requirements under the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 for retailers and wholesalers
The requirements under the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 for manufacturers, importers and own-branders
All goods supplied as part of a let of furnished residential accommodation must be safe, including gas installations and appliances
If your business manufactures, imports, distributes, sells or supplies goods you have to comply with the law; this may include checking to ensure that CE-marked products are fit to bear the mark
A guide to the consequences of supplying unsafe goods, and who is liable for the damage caused by the defect
All prams and pushchairs sold, whether new or used, are required to be safe
The safety, labelling and treatment of nightwear for children and adults
Upholstered furniture must pass safety tests and be labelled correctly with regards to its flammability
A guide to the sale of fireworks, including licensing, categories of fireworks and age restriction
Essential information for suppliers of electrical equipment, including CE marking
The law on the supply of articles that resemble food products
The requirements on nickel, lead and cadmium in jewellery, and why this is controlled
Specific safety requirements apply to mini motos, quad bikes and off-road vehicles, including the use of the CE mark
The safety requirements of ornamental and giftware including collectors' items and models
The labelling and safety requirements for new toys, and how the law applies to toys sold second-hand
The law requires part-worn tyres to be labelled and to meet minimum safety standards
If second-hand electrical goods are to be sold they must meet the legal safety requirements
Second-hand gas cooking appliances must be safe when supplied and a competent person must confirm this
Used furniture must pass safety tests regarding flammability