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The General Product Safety Directive and footwear

SATRA’s Mark Southam reviews legislation which aims to prevent unsafe goods from being placed on the European market.


ny legislation which helps to reduce personal injuries caused by consumer products must be a good thing, both in terms of protecting the consumer and the supplier. This article is aimed at suppliers of footwear to consumers in Europe and describes the requirements of the

General Product Safety Directive.

A Directive is a legislative act of the European Union which requires member states to achieve a particular result without dictating the means of achieving that result. It can be distinguished from European Union Regulations which are self-executing and do not require any implementing measures. Directives normally leave member states with a certain amount of leeway as to the exact rules to be adopted by means of a variety of legislative procedures depending on the subject matter.

When adopted, directives give member states a timetable for the implementation of the intended outcome. Occasionally, the law of the member state may already comply with this outcome and the state involved would only be required to keep their laws in place. More commonly, however, member states are required to make changes to their laws in order for the directive to be implemented correctly. If a member state fails to pass the required national legislation, or if the national legislation does not adequately comply with the requirements of the directive, the European Commission may initiate legal action against the member state in the European Court of Justice.

The General Safety Product Directive (2001/95/EC) or GPSD, was originally published in 1992 and a revision, which included some significant changes, was published in 2001. Since then it has been transposed into national law across the 27 countries of the EU. In the UK, for example, the General Product Safety Regulations (Statutory Instrument No. 1803) came into force in October 2005.

The GPSD has one simple objective – to ensure that only safe products are placed on the market. It does this by: • Specifying that products supplied by producers and distributors must be safe • Defining a safe product • Imposing obligations on producers and distributors • Laying down a framework for assessing safety • Requiring enforcement authorities to be empowered to take action where necessary to protect consumers from unsafe products.

Products covered All new and second-hand products (except those supplied for the consumer to repair or recondition before they are used) come under the legislation. Products are defined as ‘goods intended for a consumer’s private use’. Goods intended for professional use which might reasonably find their way onto the general market and, hence, private use, are also included. An example here might be professional power tools.

However, some consumer products are already subject to legislation, for example, safety footwear under the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Directive. In these cases, the directive for that particular sector still applies, but where aspects of the GPSD go further than the specific sector legislation, then these aspects of the GPSD will also apply. In other words, the GPSD is a ‘catch-all’ or ‘umbrella’ directive, which has the effect of closing any gaps in existing safety directives.

What is a safe product? A ‘safe’ product is defined as one which, under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use, presents no risk, or minimal risk to the consumer. ‘Foreseeable use’ is not just the use for which the product is intended, but includes other uses (or misuses) for which the product could reasonably be expected to be put. For example, shoes are not designed to be put in the mouth and sucked, but infants will do exactly that.

Therefore, a number of factors need to be taken into account. The product’s characteristics need to be considered. For instance, it must be remembered that there is no such thing as zero risk and some products will be associated with hazards which are inherent in their end use. Roller skates present a risk of wearers falling but are not regarded as inherently ‘unsafe’ within the terms of the GPSD, as the wearers are aware of the risk and the need to take precautions when skating.

Warning labels applied to products are intended to affect how a consumer uses them and thus affect their safety. Consideration of the type of consumer, including, for example, their age or level of vulnerability, is also important. Special consideration needs to be given to those wearers who are particularly vulnerable to certain hazards, for instance children and the elderly.


• JANUARY 2011

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