Compliance can no longer be ignored

Yvonne Orgill of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA) says attitudes to compliance are changing, and housebuilders and developers cannot ignore their responsibilities to protect consumers when specifying bathroom products.

Last year, the tragedy of Grenfell Tower highlighted the potential worst-case effects of non-compliance on vulnerable consumers. Tellingly, while the fire may have started in an appliance, it was the cladding on the outside of the building which caused the fire to spread. In this case the product was in itself compliant, however, due to issues with its specification and installation, it was rendered non-compliant and thus a disaster waiting to happen.

In the bathroom industry, organisations are working hard to raise awareness so that more of those involved in buying, specifying and installing bathroom products will ask to see proof of compliance. Only robust surveillance will prevent non-compliant goods entering the UK market. This is the first step, as a safe bathroom then requires the installation of equipment to be compliant too. For instance, the wrong load bearing on a CE marked WC may still cause injury, as surely as a faulty product can result in a scald – and there are many more ways a non-compliant bathroom can cause damage and harm consumers.

While people are used to looking for a CE mark on toys and electrical appliances, some overlook bathroom equipment. The UK market is being flooded with products that don’t meet the required ‘fit for purpose’ safety and quality standards, yet many bathroom products should by law be carrying the CE mark.

In her interim report, ‘Building a Safer Future’, part of an independent review, commissioned by the Government follow- ing the Grenfell Tower fire, Dame Judith

Hackitt noted a lack of quality assurance both of materials and people, and called for a new intelligent system of regulation and enforcement to “hold to account those who try to cut corners.”

There has to be change. It is time for a ‘push pull’ approach, educating consumers on the importance of sourcing compliant ‘fit for purpose’ CE marked products. When consumers begin to ask for compliant products this will put pressure on those that supply and fit to comply.

The BMA has embarked on a campaign, working alongside partners such as BBA, CIPHE, NHIC and WRAS to help take the message to Government. The message to those involved in residential new build and refurbishment is clear – always use good quality, compliant products, installed by a fully-qualified professional!

Highlighting these issues will be like pushing an open door. The Government has already signalled its determination to protect consumers post-Grenfell, with the launch of a new Office for Product Safety and Standards in January this year, which it says will give consumers the “highest ever levels of protection.”

Meanwhile, across the channel, the European Commission is undertaking a review of the CPR and market surveil- lance, creating confidence that consumer and construction products are safe and fit for purpose.

Here, the new Office for Product Safety and Standards will enable the UK to meet evolving product safety challenges such as international trade, the growth in online shopping, and accelerating product innovation.

The Government has stated it will work with all stakeholders on this, creating an expert panel to bring together trade associations and consumers, as well as enforcement representatives to advise on product safety issues and ensure the office coordinates the UK’s product safety regime as effectively as possible.

The remit of the new Office for Product Safety and Standards, whose budget will be around £12m per year, also covers helping manufacturers and retailers to develop product marking and identification, as well as researching consumer behaviour to identify the best way to drive up the number of consumers registering appliances with manufacturers.

There are no fewer than eight separate pieces of legislation that apply to manufacturers, from water regulations and the Consumer Act to Construction Product Regulation (CPR), introduced in 2013, which makes it mandatory for companies to carry the CE mark on all relevant bathroom products, covered by a European harmonised standard.

BMA members must show that they adhere to all these legal requirements and to help others, the association is working with Keele University to develop an online tool to support compliance, expected to launch in 2019. The online tool will provide a quick and easy navigational platform that will highlight what law, legislation and regulation needs to be complied with, and possible routes to achieve this.

Within the bathroom industry, many manufacturers do undertake testing to ensure that the product complies with the law, but many fail to market this fact, and some manufacturers don’t bother to do any testing and sell products that, when installed, break the law.

This is something that must be changed, it is the law that certain bathroom products are ‘fit for purpose’. At the moment there is little redress for those that flaunt the law, and that is part of the problem. The UK market is flooded with products such as shower enclosures, trays and screens and ceramic-ware like toilets, bidets and basins that don’t meet the required safety and quality standards.

Change is happening, however. Many organisations are working to improve awareness of the importance of sourcing compliant fit for purpose CE marked products. Housebuilders, developers and specifiers can all be part of this, and together can make a difference, building consumer confidence and maintaining consumer safety, for a safer future.

Yvonne Orgill is CEO of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association