In the guide
- Product safety
- How does the law define a safe product?
- What are my responsibilities as a retailer?
- Do some items have particular problems to watch out for?
- Further information
- Key legislation
Note: although the United Kingdom has left the European Union, certain EU laws (known as 'retained' laws) will still apply until such time as they are replaced by new UK legislation; this means that you will still see references to EU legislation in our guidance.
This guidance is for England, Scotland and Wales
By law, all goods sold to the public must be safe. A product is assessed on its safety, which includes taking into account the packaging, instructions and other labelling, the effect of the product on other products, and the special needs of certain groups of people - children, for example.
Although the first UK supplier has the primary responsibility for the safety of products sold to consumers, retailers can also be held liable for unsafe products. And some items have specific problems to watch out for - for example, models and ornaments that resemble toys, and ornamental candles and oil lamps.
Goods sold to the public should not present any unnecessary risk to anyone during normal or reasonably foreseeable use. If you sell goods that are found to be unsafe, you risk a substantial claim for compensation, as well as being prosecuted for a criminal offence.
How does the law define a safe product?
A safe product is one that does not present any unnecessary risk to anyone when the product is used in a normal or reasonably foreseeable way. In assessing the safety of products, account is taken of (among other things):
- the packaging, all accompanying instructions and any other labelling
- the effect of the product on other products with which it may be foreseeably used
- the special needs of particular classes of person, especially children
If there is a European or British standard relating to the product, the standard will be taken into account in deciding whether the product is safe.
What are my responsibilities as a retailer?
The first UK supplier has the primary responsibility for the safety of products sold to consumers but retailers can also be held liable for unsafe products. If a product is found to be unsafe, or if it causes property damage or personal injury, you will be held solely liable if you cannot identify who supplied the goods to you. It is therefore in your interest to keep full records that will enable you to identify the supplier for each product you sell.
Please tell your local trading standards service if you are offered goods that you think may be unsafe.
You should make sure that all items you have for sale have the necessary instructions for safe assembly, use and maintenance. In particular, new novelty items usually require some appropriate instructions. You should remember that it might not be adequate simply to give verbal instructions or demonstrate the product to the buyer. They may wish to give it to someone else, or they may need to refer to instructions in the future. You must pass on all user instructions included with the product.
Do some items have particular problems to watch out for?
Yes, they do. Broadly, these are as follows.
Items such as ornamental items that cannot be used safely - for example, unlined reproduction brass, pewter or copper containers embossed with 'milk' or 'tea', and fancy teapots, jugs and plates. All these should be clearly and permanently marked 'Not for food use'.
Collectors' items, models and ornaments resembling toys
Items that may be particularly hazardous to children. You should note that you are required to take special care for the safety of children. All genuine collectors' dolls or models such as toy soldiers should be clearly labelled 'This is not a toy'. To avoid confusion, such items should be displayed separately from genuine children's goods.
Key rings and other products containing lasers
Lasers that are too strong can severely damage sight. Do not sell such products to children and do not sell any product with a laser stronger than category 1. Note that key rings that are attached to, for example, a small soft toy are classed as toys and must bear the CE mark and the name and address of the manufacturer / importer.
Candles, diffusers, room sprays and fragrant aromatherapy oil heaters
The law covering these products is complex and technical, and as such there is a separate guide dedicated to them: 'Candles, diffusers, oil heaters, etc'.
See the guidance notes issued by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS, which was known as the Department of Trade and Industry at the time) entitled: The General Product Safety Regulations 2005: Guidance for Businesses, Consumers and Enforcement Authorities.
Products that resemble food also pose a potential hazard; please refer to the 'Food imitations' guide.
Failure to comply with trading standards law can lead to enforcement action and to sanctions, which may include a fine and/or imprisonment. For more information please see 'Trading standards: powers, enforcement and penalties'.
Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH)
Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures
Last reviewed / updated: January 2021
In this update
The United Kingdom has left the European Union and the post-Brexit transition period has ended; the content has been updated to reflect this