UNBS market surveillance and product safety

By Joselyn Biira Mwine

Market surveillance is defined as a set of activities carried out and measures taken by a standards body, in this case Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), to ensure that products comply with the requirements set out in relevant standards and do not endanger public health, safety or any other aspect of public interest protection.

These applicable requirements are contained in Clause 2, Section (1) (f) of the UNBS Act that gives UNBS the mandate to enforce standards in protection of the public against harmful, dangerous and sub-standard products, while Clause 20 of the Act prohibits the manufacture, sale, distribution or holding for the purpose of selling any product that does not meet compulsory Uganda standards.

While the Bureau continues to put in place mechanisms to facilitate trade, manufacturers and importers must ensure that the products meet all legal requirements. Market surveillance verifies this and restricts the movement of non-compliant products in Uganda. By doing so, the protection of all aspects of public interests, such as the health and safety of persons or the environment is guaranteed, while also ensuring fair competition.

Market surveillance is not about checking every single product on the market but is about working efficiently and intelligently in order to monitor a wide range of products with the available resources. UNBS carries out market surveillance inspections in two ways; proactively, on the bureau’s initiative, and reactively, following accidents, complaints or other intelligence requiring investigation.

Proactive market surveillance refers to activities which are specifically planned, organised and implemented by UNBS. UNBS may proactively place focus on a category of products (for example water), a specific risk (contamination), or on the business. UNBS also screens products, risks or businesses to gather relevant know-how to better react or track unsafe goods. The market surveillance officers pick samples of target high risk products from the market and as well inspect places of manufacture to ensure that the manufacturing processes meet the requirements of set standards.

If places of production are found unfit, UNBS seals off the premises or the equipment depending on the target product. The manufacturer is then required to submit a corrective action plan to UNBS stipulating the measures to be put in place, timelines for application and the responsible people. These corrective action plans are reviewed by UNBS and if agreed to, the production place is re-opened to allow the manufacture correct the non-conformances.

Proactive market surveillance activities are important because they have the potential to prevent non-compliance from taking place. These activities can also include long-term planned actions for specific products, product groups or sectors such as raising awareness through communication activities or with the traders.

UNBS also receives complaints from consumers and the general public on the negative experiences they may have had with products on the market. Complaints are received in writing, from the Support feature on our website, on telephone, or verbally. All complaints received by the Customer care desk are recorded in the Customer Complaints and Requests Form (UNBS/MP/OF/002) and given a reference number. Information recorded includes the source of the complaint, name of the organisation, address and telephone number, evidence of samples of the product in question and any relevant information that will enable the investigation.

When the market surveillance department receives a complaint, the officers react by inspecting the places of production and picking samples from the market which are submitted to the laboratory for testing. If laboratory tests show that the product does not meet the required standards, UNBS requires the manufacturer or the importer responsible to take corrective actions within a reasonable time limit, unless immediate action is required to address a serious safety or environmental risk.

Where the product presents a serious risk requiring rapid intervention, UNBS will take steps to ensure that such products are recalled, withdrawn, their availability on the market prohibited or restricted or that manufacturer takes other appropriate corrective action.

Legal action may be taken against manufacturers who are found using the UNBS Quality mark illegally yet they are not certified. In addition, manufacturers found with misleading packaging for example, the indicated quantity on a bag of cement may be 10kg but when weighed during inspection it is found to be 8kg. In addition, manufacturers found selling prohibited products or products with banned ingredients will be prosecuted. Such cases will be tried in the Standards and Utilities court of Buganda road.

UNBS encourages compliance by providing information on applicable standards and laws through press releases, the website, social media platforms on Facebook and Twitter, stakeholder engagements, public notices and media announcements. The public is encouraged to check these resources, attend meetings when called upon and engage with UNBS through our toll free line on 0800133133 or WhatsApp line 0713227580 to get as much information. A list of certified products can be found on the link https://unbs.go.ug/eservices.php?pg=certified_products

The writer is a Public Relations Officer at Uganda National Bureau of Standards.