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How will technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) impact consumer product safety? The future is rushing towards us and we may need a new frame of reference.

There’s plenty of attention on this issue and many minds are exercised. Whole days were dedicated to the topic in the November 2018 International Product Safety Week, in Brussels (IPSW2018).

Where will the answers come from:

  • Standards?
  • Laws and regulations – existing or new?
  • Corporate sector?
  • Government agencies?
  • Other stakeholder groups?

and will they be Local? Global?

Opinions in Brussels were divided.

Challenges

On top of the usual consumer product safety issues, new technologies bring additional challenges, such as:

  • Remote product operation
  • Broader chain of actors, across a longer time period
  • Post-sale product modification
  • Wider range of disciplines involved

Products will change across their lifespan, in ways not seen in the past.

Leading Bureau Veritas technical consultant, Travis Norton of the International Federation of Inspection Agencies (IFIA) said he is aware of incident in which a safety mechanism failed on an IoT product; and another in which remote activation caused a problem.

Much time at IPSW2018 was spent on potential for new ‘policy’ to help, but with little agreement.

Consumer education, they cry!

When faced with wicked regulatory and market problems, the recourse is often to just try educating users. ‘Just explain the ways to use or not use the products . . .’ This was even said by experts at IPSW2018.

We know that consumer education is the last and least effective option for product safety. Why would it be any different for connected products?  

By all means include consumer education in the mix. Indeed IoT can sometimes assist with real-time consumer information. But more effective measures are necessary. Representatives of Consumers International emphasised this point.

New approaches needed

Both market and regulatory incentives may be needed. Discussions continue on those points. Measures, such as standards and legislative policy, are under consideration. In the meantime, it is possible to develop strategies that provide a framework in which all players can be informed and supported.

The International Product Health and Safety Organisation (ICPHSO) is developing a strategy to educate designers of innovative products. Recognising that the market is opening to many non-traditional product developers, this project is exploring ways to engage and educate this wider cohort in safe product design.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has just released its Framework of Safety for the Internet of Things. This excellent new document presents a straightforward set of considerations that are applicable to any consumer product.

In 2017, Consumers International (CI) published a paper Securing Consumer Trust in the Internet of Things – Principles and Recommendations. This paper lays out the fundamental issues from the consumer point of view. It was developed by CI, along with European consumer standards organisation (ANEC), European Consumers Association (BEUC) and International Consumer Research and Testing (ICRT). Such teamwork indicates the need for collaboration and is arguably a model for other stakeholders. At IPSW2018, I found the then Director General of CI, Amanda Long, to be one of the most cogent speakers on IoT.

CI’s new paper Consumer IoT: Trust By Design 2019 – Guidelines and Checklists has some relevance as well.

Product safety practitioners in all sectors will need to think outside the box and work with one another; and with new areas to stay ahead of the IoT challenge.

International Product Safety Week 2018, Brussels
51 countries in attendance