Dealing with safety complaints
This advice is designed to provide basic guidance to traders. It is not a complete or authoritative statement of the law. Please note that some of the advice we provide to businesses is chargeable.
Increasing numbers of unsafe products are being recalled or withdrawn from sale and subject to European Rapid Alerts. So if you are in the business of making, selling or distributing consumer products, it is important you consider how you deal with safety complaints.
Unsafe products pose a potential danger to the customer, can lead to product liability claims and damage the reputation of your business, often not just in the UK or Europe, but globally.
In Trading Standards, we have dealt with many of these incidents and seen first hand how importers, manufacturers and retailers have dealt with them. What follows is based on the lesson learned.
- Retailers or distributors
If a product is returned to your store with a safety concern, record the nature of the problem and full details of the product e.g. SKU, Batch Number, Serial Number, Product Type.
Put the product safely to one side and mark it as a safety return. If possible, take photographs. Contact your Head Office or Supplier about the problem immediately and ask if they would like to see the product. Check your returns statistics to see if there are other related returns of this product.
If the customer telephones your store, obtain all the details to enable the matter to be dealt with, and if possible visit the complainant and either collect the product or photograph it. Time can be critical when dealing with product safety, so act accordingly.
Record the details as above and contact your Head Office or Supplier.
Let your local Trading Standards officer know about the product and let him/her have the full details. Train your staff how to act when dealing with the customers' concerns about the product. While the customer may be satisfied with a refund, you as a distributer have a responsibility under the General Product Safety Regulations to monitor product safety.
Many customers come to us at Trading Standards because of the lack of concern shown them by the business, either in-store or by a customer service department. Make sure your staff are briefed about the correct procedure for dealing with safety complaints.
Don't hesitate to withdraw the product from your shelves if you have any doubt, even if this proves to be a temporary action, while the safety of the product is investigated.
If the product it is your own brand and you subsequently find the product unsafe, you will need to consider whether a recall or warning should be issued.
- Importers or manufacturers
Be prepared to liaise directly with the customer to get the correct information and try to collect the product for examination. Many businesses will send out pre-paid address labels to help product returns, or will arrange an engineer's visit for larger or installed products.
Tell your local Trading Standards Service about the problem. Keep them informed. A good way of monitoring safety complaints as required by General Product Safety Regulations is to log them on a database or register.
Make your retailers aware it is their responsibility to let you know about any safety issues with your products. Be prepared to withdraw the product, even if it is only while an investigation into the product safety is taking place.
Train your staff how to deal with calls and e-mails about the safety of the product, so your customers think positively about your business.
There are special procedures for some complaints about cosmetic products.
Once an incident with an unsafe product has been resolved, ask yourself how the problem arose and check your systems to ensure the problem doesn't happen again. You may need to carry out a product recall. Do you have a recall procedure?
Do you have a product registration scheme, it will help you to trace your customers?
Build up a relationship with your local Trading Standards Officer, who can help you avoid placing dangerous products on the market and advise what to do if things do go wrong. Support your local Trading Standards Officer by dealing with the problem actively, promptly and thoroughly.
Remember a failure to act effectively could cause injury or worse, and may damage the image and reputation of your company.
If you would like to know more about product safety requirements please contact us.