A new trend has appeared in the EU’s consumers’ policy: the “safety gate” is being established as a reliable tool for: a) market surveillance authorities to keep consumers safe, and b) keeping dangerous products off the market, both in real trade and online. However, these initiatives are only –so far – about non-food consumer products.
Present global and European challenges require new solutions; partly, in retaining consumers’ safety through radical EU-wide measures, including the important “safety gate” platform which is supposed to help the member states maintaining swift and accurate exchange of information while continuing adapting modern technology in the digital age and striving for increasing cooperation among national authorities.
About two years ago (i.e. in June 2021), the Commission presented a proposal for a new General Product Safety Regulation, which will replace existing General Product Safety Directive. The suggested regulation will modernise the general framework for the safety of non-food consumer products, maintaining its role as a safety net for consumers, and ensuring that the safety challenges posed by new technologies and by the growth of online sales are met.
The General Product Safety Regulation will help ensure that only safe products are sold in the EU, both online and in shops, in the EU or elsewhere. It will significantly improve the enforcement of product safety rules and streamline market surveillance by recalling of dangerous non-food products.
Since 2003, the Safety Gate has enabled a quick exchange of information among EU/EEA member states and the European Commission about dangerous non-food products posing a risk to the health and safety of consumers. It is expected that appropriate follow-up actions would be taken and inappropriate products could be removed from the market.
To facilitate the circulation of information to the public, the Commission also manages the EU-wide “Safety Gate” public website, which has a modern and user-friendly interface to ease the notification process. Website’s pages are translated into all EU languages, in addition to Icelandic, Norwegian, and recently also including Arabic and Ukrainian.
Corporate entities can also use the Business Gateway to inform national authorities quickly and efficiently about security concerns regarding a product that they have put on the market.
The Product Safety Pledge also sets out specific voluntary actions for marketplaces to remove offers of unsafe products from their platforms.
Eleven online marketplaces have already signed this agreement, such as: bol.com, eMAG, Wish.com, AliExpress, Amazon, eBay, Rakuten France, Allegro, Cdiscount, Etsy and Joom. The latest progress report of the global Product Safety Pledge is available online.
Besides the drafts of General Product Safety Regulation from Mid-2021, the Commission also launched in 2022 a new e-surveillance tool called “web crawler”. The tool aims to further support national authorities in the detection of online offers of dangerous products signaled in Safety Gate.
It identifies and automatically lists any of these offers, allowing enforcement authorities to track down the provider and order the effective withdrawal of these offers, helping to harmonise actions and address the challenges of monitoring the online sales of dangerous products.
During last six months, the tool has helped to process 939 alerts, which resulted in analysing over six thousand websites’ requests.
Main safety directions
European Commission published its annual report on the Safety Gate, the European Rapid Alert System for dangerous non-food products. The report covers alerts notified during 2022, and the responses given by national authorities. Health risks linked to chemical substances was the most frequent type of risk notified, which was found also in a wider variety of products. For the second consecutive year, toys and cars top the list of most notified product categories.
In 2022, authorities from the 30 participating countries of the Safety Gate network (EU-27 states, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) reacted to 2,117 alerts with 3,932 follow-up actions. In every EU state, market surveillance authorities followed up on the alerts regularly and exchanged additional information: e.g. about 84 percent of follow-up actions included additional national measures. For example, the Austrian market surveillance authorities detected a toy containing easily detachable parts, which presented a choking risk for children. Following notification from the Austrian authorities on Safety Gate, the Slovenian authorities identified the toy on their market, and retailers were able to swiftly recall the product.
During 2022, risks related to chemical substances, injuries and choking were the most notified. The list of most common product categories notified was topped by toys, followed by motor vehicles, cosmetics, clothing, and electrical appliances. Thus, last year, cosmetic products had a significantly higher number of alerts related to the presence of recently banned chemical substances in perfumes and creams.
However, the sharp rise of alerts related to chemical risks was not only due to cosmetics, as chemical risks were identified in a wider range of products. Certain toys, for example, had an excessive concentration of phthalates, which poses risks to the reproductive system.
Note: The Safety Gate system enables that information on measures taken against non-food dangerous products is circulated quickly among the national authorities responsible for product safety in the Single Market countries. Every day, national authorities send alerts to the Safety Gate. Each alert contains information on the kind of product detected as dangerous, a description of the risk and the measures taken by the economic operator or ordered by the authority. Every alert is followed-up by the other authorities, which take their own measures if they find the same product in their own national markets. Other countries have the obligation to follow up this information and if they find the same product on their own markets, they have to share this information on Safety Gate as well.
More on safety gate: https://ec.europa.eu/safety-gate/#/screen/home
More information in the Commission’s websites: = Safety Gate – 2022 results; = Safety Gate factsheet; = Safety Gate: the EU rapid alert system for dangerous non-food products; = Product Safety Business Alert Gateway; = Product safety pledge.