HSE's role as a market surveillance authority

Public authorities, such as HSE, are responsible for monitoring the safety and conformity of products against product supply law. This is an activity known as market surveillance.

HSE is one of the UK's market surveillance authorities, which monitors and enforces legal requirements on the safety (including risks to health) of most products used at work. This work is undertaken in addition to HSE's other functions, including its traditional role as a workplace health and safety regulator. Other UK market surveillance authorities such as trading standards, which are locally based, deal mainly with the safety of consumer products - although they take the lead role (instead of HSE) on the safety of some products used at work.

What does HSE do in the field of product safety?

A number of UK bodies have obligations to organise and undertake market surveillance to protect the interests of product users, and to ensure the operation of the market. HSE contributes to this by leading on the monitoring of the health and safety of most products used at work. HSE allocates resources to undertake both reactive and proactive market surveillance.

Investigation of product safety issues may be undertaken in response to concerns about products, which fall within HSE's enforcement remit when raised by users or regulators, including as a result of HSE's workplace inspection and investigation activities.

HSE's policy on market surveillance

HSE will undertake market surveillance work following the same principles and policy as it does for its other activities, acting independently, impartially and proportionately on the basis of risk. This includes taking appropriate action in cases of lower risk, where inaction could undermine the integrity of the system for product safety (eg incorrect marking, missing documentation). However, these activities may not be treated with the same urgency as high-risk issues and, if co-operation is given by the parties involved, such administrative issues can usually be dealt with without formal enforcement action.

Enforcement by HSE

HSE's product safety powers include investigation, enforcement and prosecution. Specific product supply Notices require Compliance, Withdrawal from the market, and Recall were provided by product supply law.

HSE can investigate product safety issues, requiring co-operation and information from those who may be involved. HSE inspectors can require that a product is left undisturbed or take possession of dangerous products, and can direct that an activity such as the supply of a product is stopped immediately, or that improvements for compliance are made by a specified date. HSE can apply to the courts to request the forfeiture of certain products, subject to the court's ruling following judicial consideration of the facts, and the courts can in certain circumstances make an order for reimbursement of any expenditure incurred during the investigation of an offence.

HSE may instigate proceedings in the magistrates' court, although this is usually reserved for the most serious matters or where enforcement have not been complied with. Penalties for proven breaches of the law are mostly financial and subject to the same principles as for other health and safety matters. Costs may be awarded by the court to HSE. As most substantive offences under GB product safety law are triable either way - meaning they can be heard at either magistrates' or Crown court - unlimited fines may be imposed on those found guilty.

Decisions on enforcement are guided using the principles of HSE's Enforcement Management Model, following HSE's Enforcement Policy Statement and taking full account of the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

Co-ordination of market surveillance activity

Where appropriate, HSE works in co-ordination with other market surveillance authorities (MSAs) with UK border control authorities, and other stakeholders such as industry bodies, unions. This may be in reaction to issues arising from incidents and information received, as well as from following proactive work programmes.

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Updated: 2023-03-27