By Joselyn Biira Mwine
Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) is mandated to enforce standards in protection of the public against harmful, dangerous and sub-standard products in Clause 2, Section (1) (f) of the UNBS Act.
When products are traded between willing suppliers and willing consumers within a free market system where there are no price controls, the “laws” of supply and demand usually take precedence. Suppliers have an interest in efficiently providing as many products as possible, in order to remain in business and grow. Consumers, on the other hand, have a need to buy products, but seek to obtain them at the best price possible. Somewhere in the negotiations that follow, the issue of product quality comes up. Consumers require a level of quality that equates to at least their perception of fitness for purpose and safety, or else they will not buy the product. It is, of course, in the interest of suppliers to meet the requirements of consumers so as to guarantee repeat business. The answer to the definition of that level of fitness for purpose and safety is usually provided by standards.
The situation in practice is not always so simple, however. Firstly, competition in the market leads to new suppliers coming in, offering ever decreasing prices. Secondly, the normal product life cycle results in affluent early adopters paying the most, and late adopters reaping the rewards of economies of scale achieved by the most efficient suppliers, and of lower prices brought about by increased competition. All of this would be manageable if all products conformed to up-to-date standards that address all the safety aspects of a product, all suppliers were honourable and efficient, and all consumers were knowledgeable – but they are not!
Frequently, consumers need to purchase a product about which they cannot be expected to have the same level of technical knowledge as the manufacturer, and they have to buy on the basis of trust. Occasionally, suppliers come to the market with products that do not meet the expectations of the consumer, or are downright dangerous.
When products are involved that can have an effect on health or safety, or the environment, or that might encourage deceptive practices, consumers need protection from faulty or dangerous products or from the unscrupulous behaviour of suppliers. This is where UNBS through the Market Surveillance department steps in to assure a reasonable level of protection. Without some form of enforcement of these regulations, there will be little compliance.
Both pre-market and post-market surveillance activities are useful to protect consumer safety and ensure product quality. Proper pre-market surveillance can help ensure the conformity of products entering the market and alleviate the pressure on post-market surveillance. The manufacturer or supplier has liability for any non-conforming product.
UNBS typically carries out both scheduled and random visits to premises, and can obtain and test samples of products already placed on the market, from retail outlets, etc.
A country has to maintain a market surveillance system due to 2 (two) reasons:
- Illegal and unsafe products should not be allowed to be put on and remain on the market.
- Fair market conditions should prevail. Suppliers who follow the rules and bear the administrative costs and delays due to regulations should not be disadvantaged compared to those who do not comply with the rules.
It is common knowledge that there are individuals that masquerade as UNBS market surveillance inspectors. Therefore, the industry should know the following when inspectors reach their premises.
- The team leader will identify him/herself and the team with official identity and authority cards and should be in corporate wear and transported in an official vehicle.
- The team leader must state the objective of the inspection, clearly indicating the areas to be inspected, the products and any information that should be provided by the site owners.
- If the site owner is suspicious, please call the official UNBS line 0417333250 or call the Manager, Market Surveillance on 0785083079.
- The team must record the names and contacts of the persons responsible for the business being inspected and request for people to accompany them around the inspection site, where necessary.
- In the course of conducting inspection, Police or other security agencies may be called in to offer security to inspectors and inspected items.
- As caution, a UNBS inspector should never force his or her way into any premises unless in circumstances where they have been denied access. The security agencies accompanying the inspectors may proceed to ensure access.
- Where the inspection reveals minor non-conformities, the inspector can instruct the business owner to take immediate corrective actions. The owner of the business shall sign an undertaking SV/OF/010 to close the NCs found.
- Where inspection reveals major non-conformities, the team shall seal off the premises/ work station in question and the owner shall be required to report to the UNBS HQ.
Market surveillance involves checking products or services directly, either at the retail stage or, in some cases, at import or wholesale stage. Other types of inspections look at compliance during the production stage – to ensure safety for workers, neighbors, the environment, and to achieve effective safety throughout the production chain.
It is important to remember that these operations are meant to protect the health and safety of consumers and promote fair trade in the country.
The writer is the Public Relations Officer at Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS)