Tom Reynolds, Chief Executive of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, advocates that regulation and rigorous enforcement action are two sides of the same coin.
The Office for Product Safety and Standards, established in 2018 by the then Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, is meant ‘to be a trusted product regulator for the UK, a leader of good practice and a champion for local regulation’.
However, despite a dedicated team for construction products, the bathroom industry still finds itself grappling with persistent challenges of non-compliance and inadequate market surveillance.
The OPSS has an uphill battle to meet its brief of protecting consumers and industry actors alike. The challenges it faces are becoming increasingly evident, inflicting damage to reputable businesses and potential consumer harm.
One glaring issue lies in the reduction of local trading standards services, a consequence of councils reallocating funding to other priority statutory services. This shift has left a void, allowing unscrupulous businesses to exploit gaps in enforcement, flooding the market with non-compliant products. The repercussions are felt not only by reputable companies but also by consumers who unwittingly purchase substandard goods.
Setting regulations, while essential, is merely the first step. Reputable businesses will follow the rules, incurring significant expense, but the critical element lies in the rigorous enforcement of these regulations. Without it, the bathroom manufacturing industry remains susceptible to unscrupulous practices.
To combat this, enforcement efforts must be intensified, and whoever forms the next UK Government after next year’s General Election should urgently seek to rectify the current lack of action. The OPSS should be empowered to identify, investigate, and rectify breaches with a focus on proactive measures.
It’s worth pointing out that while poor water fittings manufacturers can produce non-compliant products and place them on the market, it is illegal to install them. Installers beware!
Financial penalties for non-compliance should also be significantly increased. By making the cost of bypassing regulations prohibitive, companies will be motivated to adhere to established guidelines. The success of this approach is evident in the enforcement of health and safety laws and recent sentencing guidelines, where stringent penalties have served as a powerful deterrent.
Implementing a robust surveillance system, supported by stringent penalties, will level the playing field for all manufacturers. Beyond protecting the interests of credible companies, this approach will enhance consumer confidence. Knowing that every product in the market adheres to the highest industry standards set by regulators provides assurance and peace of mind for consumers.
As the BMA advocates for a strengthened regulatory framework, it is crucial to emphasise that the goal is not to stifle industry growth but to create an environment where innovation and compliance coexist. A well-regulated market safeguards consumers and fosters healthy competition and sustainable growth.
I would call on all those involved in the bathroom industry to unite, pushing for intensified enforcement efforts and increased penalties. This collective action will fortify the industry against non-compliance and elevate consumer confidence, ensuring that every bathroom product meets the highest standards set by regulators.