Responsibility for product safety
What are general consumer goods?
General consumer goods are products intended for consumers that are not regulated by legislation specific to any product group. General consumer goods include furniture, clothing, pacifiers, candles and hand tools. Electricity and gas equipment, toys, foodstuffs, medicine, cosmetics and chemicals, for example, have their own specific legislation.
General consumer goods are subject to general consumer safety legislation. The safety of consumer goods (consumer products) is regulated by the Consumer Safety Act (920/2011) and the information decree (613/2004). EU’s General Product Safety Directive is the underlying legislation.
General consumer safety legislation is secondary and complementary.
Secondary means that general consumer safety legislation applies only where specific legislation does not impose safety requirements on the products. Complementarity means that general consumer safety legislation also applies to products that are regulated by specific legislation, but it does not cover all aspects relevant to safety.
Several different laws and regulations can therefore apply to a single product. This section focuses only on requirements arising from general consumer safety legislation. The product groups covered by specific laws are discussed in their own sections. The scope of application of EU’s chemicals legislation is also very extensive, and its provisions also apply to general consumer goods. The requirements of chemical regulations are described on the Tukes website.
Responsibility for product safety
According to the Consumer Safety Act, consumer goods may not pose any risk to anyone’s health or property.
Consumer goods are deemed dangerous if their structure or composition has
- a defect
- a deficiency
- false, misleading or incomplete information
- a misleading appearance
that may pose a health risk or damage
The Consumer Safety Act does not lay down detailed requirements for the physical characteristics of a product.
Companies cannot freely choose whether to eliminate risks with technical solutions or statutory markings. Risks must primarily be minimised with technical solutions; instructions and warnings are a secondary method.
The obligation to ensure product safety applies to every operator in the distribution chain. In addition to businesses, non-profit legal entities such as associations and private persons are also subject to the obligation if they sell or distribute products in course of commercial activity.
In addition to the sale, the obligations also apply in situations without the exchange of money where the products are given as gratuities or other similar free promotional gifts in course of commercial activity.
Example 1: A keychain is delivered as a newspaper subscription gift.
Example 2: A razor sample to be distributed to consumers with mail for marketing purposes.
Find out which laws and regulations apply to your product. An operator is required to know its product and assess the risks related to it. The operator is responsible for ensuring that the product complies with the requirements of the relevant legislation.
A product or its characteristics can be subject to several laws, for example if the consumer product has electrical or pressure properties. The product must meet the requirements of all relevant legislation.
If the product is a consumer product that is not subject to any specific legislation, it is a general consumer product that is subject to the Consumer Safety Act. Consumer safety legislation can be applied to all consumer goods in a complementary manner, even if they are also subject to specific legislation.
Roles in the distribution chain
All actors in the distribution chain, such as manufacturers, importers, sales agents, intermediaries , distributors and retailers, are responsible for the safety of general consumer goods.
Responsibility for the safety of a consumer product lies with each actor in the supply chain, including sales agents.
For example, please note that the requirements of the Consumer Safety Act also apply to promotional gifts and giveaways if an association or other non-profit legal entity gives lighters as gifts. In such cases, the association is responsible for the safety of the product distributed in addition to its manufacturer and importer.
This section discusses general consumer products. In legislation specific to a product group, such as the legislation concerning electricity safety or gas appliances, the obligations of different types of operators can differ.
- Distributor refers to an operatorwhich sells or othrewise provides a product that has been manufactured in the EU or already been placed on the EU market by another operator. Distributors include retailers and wholesalers, along with commercial sellers of used goods, such as recycling centres and flea markets.
- Intermediaries or sales agent refers to a business that transmits products from one operator to another. Intermediaries are not always in possession of the product or service; rather, it is a question of transmitting orders between actors. The obligations set out in consumer safety legislation also apply to intermediaries and sales agents, and the authorities may also take action against them.
Examples of situations where the operator is held liable under the Act on consumer safety:
- A person orders a product from a foreign online store and puts it on sale in their online store.
- A person receives orders for a product on social media that they will obtain from an online store based on the orders and then pass on to the customers.
- A person publishes pictures of their handicrafts on social media and offers to prepare and deliver similar handicrafts to others for a fee.
- A school class or hobby team sells candles to raise funds for their activities.
- To celebrate its 50th anniversary, an association buys candles that bear its logo. The participants of the annual meeting all receive a candle.
- A sports club buys club shirts and sells them to its members.
- A company distributes orders from Finnish retail chains to a Swedish furniture manufacturer that delivers the products directly to the retail chains.
In its market surveillance, Tukes aims to target its measures to the operator that is at the top of the distribution chain in Finland.
Duty to take care
The general duty to take care under the Consumer Safety Act applies to all operators in the distribution chain. The law requires operators to have adequate and correct information about consumer goods and assess the risks involved.
An operator must ensure the safety of the products with due care required by the circumstances and in a professional manner. The most important thing is to ensure that the product will not pose a danger to anyone’s health or property. Consumer goods must also meet the requirements of relevant legislation. A business must assess all the risks associated with the consumer goods as a whole.
The risk assessment should acknowledge:
- the intended use
- operating conditions
- foreseeable uses – how and for what similar products are usually used
- user group
- potential misuse
The risks should primarily be eliminated by technical solutions. Instructions and warnings are only a secondary method.
Consumer safety legislation does not require a pre-market third party inspection, and there are no official approvals for general consumer goods. Marketing may not give misleading information. Even if Tukes examines the product under its supervision and finds the examined parts to be conformant, you must not say that the product has been approved by Tukes.
The market surveillance authority carries out sample checks to verify the conformity of a product already placed on the market. Responsibility for safety and conformity is not transferred to the authority, even if the authority has examined the product.
General consumer goods that are not subject to specific legislation requiring the CE marking must not bear the CE marking.