The International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO) held its 2020 International Symposium on 27-28 October 2020, in conjunction with the European Commission’s International Product Safety Week (IPSW) on 9-10 and 12 November 2020.  The sessions were jam packed with updates on new developments and things to keep on your radar. Below are our highlights.

ICPHSO’s 2020 International Symposium

The theme for this year’s ICPHSO International Symposium was “Safely Sustainable: exploring how the concept of sustainability is impacting and shaping consumer product safety”.  This year’s International Symposium was held virtually and over 200 delegates participated, including regulators, manufacturers, retailers, consumer organizations, law firms, testing laboratories and trade associations. Real-time translations were available in 16 languages and the agenda was structured with repeating breakout sessions to accommodate different time zones. Cooley’s Rod Freeman was the Planning Chair for the program, and Cooley supported the event as the Diamond Sponsor. Highlights included:

  • Robert Adler, Acting CPSC Chairman gave a keynote presentation. He discussed the impact of COVID-19 on product safety with initial data indicating that injury trends have changed. Activities that involve team sports have shown reductions in reported injuries, whilst solo activities have shown a significant increase. Other areas showing increases in injuries include home improvement activities and use of cleaning agents. Commissioner Adler outlined the focus for the CPSC over the coming year including: injuries and fatalities from ATVs; hazards from portable gas generators; risks for children from small high powered magnets; hazards associated with battery fires; issues with infant products with a particular focus on sleeping environments; micro mobility devices (such as e-scooters); window cords; and certain chemicals risks in children’s products. The CPSC has also hired a Chief Data Officer and Chief Analytics Officer, focusing on using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in the CPSC’s work. Commissioner Adler announced that he won’t be seeking re-nomination at the end of his current term.
  • Commissioner Didier Reynders from the European Commission also gave a keynote. He talked about the European Commission’s commitment to, and upcoming work on, sustainability and safety. Commission Reynders discussed the new Consumer Agenda for 2020-2025 that includes proposals to ensure consumers are provided with clear information about the sustainability, durability and lifespan of products. The new Consumer Agenda will also promote a repair culture and the European Commission wants to give EU consumers an effective “right-to-repair”. Commission Reynders explained that work on sustainability must not come at the cost of product safety and the European Commission has been thinking about how to guarantee that a repaired product still meets safety standards. The European Commission is reviewing EU product safety legislation to ensure it is still fit for purpose and there will also be a focus on making products safer for children, with EU-wide sampling and testing of children’s products.
  • Plenary and breakout sessions provided an overview of the latest international sustainability developments from a product safety perspective and tackled the product safety implications associated with this growing area of policy and law. Speakers included Kim Hughes (Global Product Safety, Regulatory Compliance, and Device Software Engineering and Reliability Counsel, Microsoft), Monique Goyens (Director General, BEUC), Michael Del Negro (Chief Compliance Officer, GE Appliances) and Carter Roberts (President & CEO, World Wildlife Fund), among many other notable names. We heard about recent and upcoming regulatory changes in the EU including the “right-to-repair” (with a focus on professional repairers carrying out the repairs) and new legislation coming into force on implied statutory warranties that covers digital content and imposes obligations regarding software updates. Over in the US, we heard that there is a patchwork of regulations, with states such as California having passed “right-to-repair” laws that go so far as to require repair information be provided to consumers and there are concerns around safety where consumers (as opposed to professional repairers) are carrying out repairs. One interesting takeaway for stakeholders to think about is that for some proposed measures, changes in manufacturing processes alone may not be sufficient and will require buy-in from the entire supply chain. E.g. removing plastic wrappers can introduce risks of dirt and contamination of products, so transport, storage and retail practices may need to change alongside new packaging requirements. Our key takeaway from the sessions on sustainability was that there is a lot of change coming down the line with initiatives being developed across the globe that will impact the way products are designed, manufactured, marketed, used and end-of-lifed. There is a real need for stakeholders to talk and listen to each other to ensure that proposed new measures deliver on their ambition of making products more sustainable, without impacting product safety, unfairly increasing liability or being a barrier to innovation.
  • New technologies also featured on the agenda and was the theme of various breakout and plenary sessions. Speakers included John McNulty (Head of Safety and Compliance Engineering for Hardware, Google), Katerina Megas (Program Manager for the Cybersecurity, Internet of Things (IoT) program, NIST), Orsolya Csorba (Deputy Head, Product Safety and Rapid Alert System Unit DG Just, European Commission) and Kim van Sparrentak (Member, European Parliament) among other product safety professionals at the forefront of new technologies. We heard about the different risks associated with AI-enabled products and the evolving EU legislative landscape with the revision of the General Product Safety Directive, the European Commission’s White Paper on AI and the revision of the Product Liability Directive. The European Parliament recently adopted a legislative proposal for a stand-alone Regulation on the Civil Liability of AI including plans to reassess the concept of when “a product was put into circulation”, cover both front-end and back-end AI operators and introduce a risk based approach differentiating between high-risk applications and other systems, with strict liability placed on operators of high-risk AI systems and fault based liability for other AI systems. A cap on compensation and limitation periods of 30 years for certain claims is also proposed. The European Commission has said it will publish draft legislation next year on AI. It will be interesting to see if the European Parliament’s proposals (or a variation of them) make their way into the European Commission’s draft legislation. For IoT devices, one of the potential policy measures being talked about in the EU is the introduction of a requirement that software updates be provided for 10 years in the context of the “right-to-repair” for certain devices. Cybersecurity is also a big issue for IoT devices and we heard about regulatory developments in the EU and US. IoT security is also being actively pursued in other jurisdictions such as the UK, Canada, Japan and Australia and there is a risk of market fragmentation unless approaches in key jurisdictions align. Work is underway on international standards as one way to try to avoid this.
  • Risk management and compliance was also explored. We heard from Andre Berends (Safety Gate Team Leader, European Commission) as well as many other experienced product safety professionals from a range of fields. Changes to Safety Gate coming down the line include a revamp of the webpage, daily .xml download and further integration between different systems and other surveillance tools. Two testing labs provided useful tips on getting the most out of using a testing lab and how to keep costs under control including: decide early which countries you want to sell the new product in so you can avoid duplication of testing later down the track; consider whether you really need all of the variations of colour and materials as each variation may need to be tested; and test components during the design stage to make sure they pass before committing to a large order.
  • The impact of COVID-19 on product safety was also discussed. Claire Temple from Cooley moderated a session that explored challenges product safety professionals faced during the COVID-19 crisis and what lessons could be learnt for dealing with future product safety crises. Decisions may need to be made quickly – so ensure you have the right team, with the right expertise, the right diversity of thought and opinion and the best information. Nancy Cowles (Executive Director, Kids in Danger) also moderated a session that explored the impact of COVID-19 on children’s product safety. A key takeaway was that accidents often occur when something disruptive happens, like a change in routine.

European Commission’s IPSW 2020

The European Commission’s IPSW was also held virtually with over 500 participants from more than 70 countries. Highlights included:

  • Commissioner Didier Reynders from the European Commission gave another keynote speech. One of the main priorities for the European Commission is to ensure consumers are as safe online as offline. Commissioner Reynders noted that lawmakers cannot do this alone and announced that two additional online marketplaces and eMAG have signed-up to the European Commission’s voluntary product safety pledge. We heard that there are five key consumer policy areas for the European Commission: ensuring consumer policy is fit for the digital age; consumer empowerment in the green and digital transition; ensuring the enforcement of EU consumer law; addressing consumer vulnerabilities; and international cooperation. The new Consumer Agenda 2020-2025 is the blueprint for the future of consumer policy in the EU covering these five key areas. It includes product safety with the revision of the General Product Safety Directive that will look at: covering risks brought about by new technologies and online selling; strengthening the enforcement powers of the EU’s Member States in checking dangerous products arriving from outside the EU; and ensuring products can be effectively traced and recalled. As we heard during ICPHSO, another area of focus for the Commission is sustainability. Commissioner Reynders noted that manufacturers sometimes argue that some components should not be replaceable for safety reasons. However, he encouraged manufacturers to think of ways to make a product both safe and sustainable by design and to think of ways to easily replace parts of the product that may need to be later changed. He reiterated comments made at ICPHSO that the Commission is considering how to guarantee that a repaired product continues to meet required product safety standards. In terms of protecting vulnerable consumers, the Commissioner noted that 32% of all products notified as dangerous on the EU’s Safety Gate Rapid Alert System were toys and childcare articles (pushchairs, carry cots, baby carriers etc). Commissioner Reynders announced that the EU is currently planning to update the safety requirements for standards on childcare products under the General Product Safety Directive.
  • The theme for day 1 was “Better Safe Than Sorry – Keeping consumers safe in times of crises and raising the bar for product traceability”.  Representatives from the European Commission, the National Consumer Commission in South Africa, Health Canada and a former Director-General in Office of Prime Minister, South Korea discussed the main issues regulators faced during the Covid-19 pandemic.  In relation to traceability, Marion Walsmann, MEP, rapporteur for the IMCO (Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection) report on “Addressing product safety in the Single Market” noted that traceability for non-harmonised products is one of the areas in focus for the review of the General Product Safety Directive and the European Parliament has asked the Commission to look at the ways blockchain could be used to enhance the traceability of products throughout the entire supply chain.
  • The theme for day 2 was “Re-call me ASAP: How to effectively and efficiently recall dangerous products from consumers”.  Strengthening recalls is another area of focus for the revision of the General Product Safety Directive. Salla Saastamoinen (Acting Director General at European Commission) noted that a large scale behavioral study was launched in the EU earlier this year and early results show there is more that can be done to make recalls more visible and less burdensome for consumers. We heard from representatives from the OECD, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the European Commission, the Norwegian Environment Agency and the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) about what is being done around the globe to make recalls more effective. The European Commission has been working with Member States to develop guidance to address how personal data should be handled in recalls. Businesses and consumer representatives shared their best practices in the recall process including: involve your marketing team as they know how to reach your target consumers; personalising communications; and tailoring the communication channel to the consumers you are trying to reach. In this context, it’s always important to remember that companies which handle a crisis well can enhance their reputations. During the wrap-up, Pinuccia Contino (Head of Unit at European Commission, DG Justice and Consumers, Unit E.4 Product safety and Rapid Alert System) announced a shared initiative between the Commission and the OECD on the safety of toys sold online with the launch of a new communication campaign on 20 November with the hashtag “#safetoysonline”.

The next ICPHSO event is the 2021 Annual Meeting and Training Symposium that will take place in February 2021 as a virtual conference. Visit here to find out more and how you can get involved.  The next IPSW is scheduled for 2022.

Posted by Tracey Bischofberger