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Unsafe products in the EU - overview

19 April 2007
by eub2 -- last modified 19 April 2007

If a product on the European market causes a serious risk to the health and safety of consumers, action can be taken at three different levels to eliminate the risk.


Actions at Member State level (RAPEX)

What is RAPEX?

RAPEX is a European rapid alert system for dangerous non-food products. It ensures information about dangerous products identified in the Member States is quickly circulated between the Member States and the Commission.

How does RAPEX work?

  • When a product (e.g. a toy, a childcare article or a household appliance) is found to be dangerous, the competent national authority takes appropriate action to eliminate the risk. It can withdraw the product from the market, recall it from consumers or issue warnings. The National Contact Point then informs the European Commission (Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection) about the product, the risks it poses for consumers and the measures taken by the authority to prevent risks and accidents.

  • The European Commission disseminates the information that it receives to the National Contact Points of all other EU countries. It publishes weekly overviews of dangerous products and the measures taken to eliminate the risks on the internet.

  • The National Contact Points in each EU country ensure that the authorities responsible check whether the newly notified dangerous product is present on the market. If so, the authorities take measures to eliminate the risk, either by requiring the product to be withdrawn from the market, by recalling it from consumers or by issuing warnings.

Actions at Business level

Producers and distributors must inform the competent national authority where they know (or ought to know) that a product they have placed on the market (e.g. a toy or an electrical appliance) is dangerous. This means that producers and distributors are responsible in the first instance for preventing any risks posed by the dangerous products they place on the market. When, how and to whom producers and distributors should notify is described in the Guidelines.

Actions at Community level

Under certain conditions, the Commission may adopt a formal Decision requiring the Member States to ban the marketing of an unsafe product, to recall it from consumers or to withdraw it from the market. Such Decisions at Community level can be taken:

  • where the Member States have different approaches to dealing with the risks posed by such dangerous products,
  • where urgency is needed due to the risk of the product, and where no other Community laws deal with that risk, and
  • where such Decisions are the most effective way of eliminating the risk.

A Decision of this kind is only valid for a maximum of one year. To date, two Decisions of this kind have been taken at Community level:

  • A Decision on Phthalates (substances which are used as softeners in plastics)

    In 1999, a number of Member States expressed concern about the potential adverse effects that phthalates could have on the health of children. This led to a Decision which temporarily banned the use of six phthalates in toys and childcare articles. Due to its temporary status, the Decision had to be regularly renewed. In the meantime, Member States have also implemented national measures banning the use of phthalates in toys.

    A series of risk assessments confirmed the safety concerns, and the need for a permanent ban became evident. In July 2005, a permanent Directive banned the use of phthalates in toys.
  • A Decision on lighters

    On 11 May 2006, the Commission adopted a Decision requiring Member States to ensure that, as of 11 March 2007, cigarette lighters are child-resistant when placed on the EU market. As of that same date, the Decision also prohibits the placing on the market of lighters which resemble objects (such as toys, food, mobile phones, etc.) that are particularly attractive to children. Certain lighters are excluded from the scope of the Decision, but must comply with the general safety requirements for these products. Read more.

Notifications of dangerous products by producers and distributors
Leaflet prepared by the European Commission in order to promote an obligation of producers and distributors to notify to the competent national authorities of the Member States unsafe products placed on the EU market

Source: European Commission