Product recalls: an end to the madness

At a time when the media alert us to a new product recall campaign every day, Olivier Richard, an industrial loss adjuster, discusses the trends in the area and gives us feedback on his experience.

 

There is an abundance of communiques about product recalls in the media. Should we fear for our safety?

No, I don’t think we should give in to the madness. Firstly, because the perception that we could get through the media does not necessarily reflect an actual trend. This perception can be exacerbated by some highly publicised cases, such as recalls of vehicles with defective Takata airbags (60 to 70 million vehicles) or Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones following the explosion of batteries (2.5 million telephones). Secondly, because the monitoring systems, either at the initiative of the authorities or citizens, make an increasingly good job of reporting safety issues. This is particularly the case for food products, for which the increasing number of recalls is explained by the enhanced checks and not by a decline in the quality of production processes.

 

So, is it good news?

Yes, really. Especially as some campaigns are not seen by the general public, or even reported to the authorities. But they reveal an awareness amongst manufacturers, who are proactively taking measures to ensure the safety of consumers. Feedback is also making it possible to improve safety standards: some products, which would have been compliant in the past, are no longer considered compliant. This doesn’t mean that they have become more dangerous, it’s just that the risk is better controlled.

 

And which sectors are most affected by recall campaigns?

There is the agri-food sector, for the reasons I mentioned before (enhanced checks). The automotive sector is also affected as well as toys, clothes and electrical appliances. The reasons are fairly varied: the automotive sector for example is under constant technical development, which systematically creates new risks, for the time required to make systems reliable. For toys or clothes, the risks are more related to a discrepancy in the manufacturing quality in large production runs. But the design of products, which is constrained by optimising costs for the consumer, can also cause defects.

 

Is that where you come into play with your appraisals?

Exactly, when we are called in due to physical accidents for example, we use our in-house laboratory to identify potential safety risks as quickly as possible. We analyse new and/or damaged products and collect eye witness accounts. This allows us to detect any weaknesses in the design, generalised manufacturing defects or if, on the other hand, the defects only occurred in certain production batches, for example in the event of a change in manufacturing processes or suppliers of raw materials. In that case, a detailed traceability analysis can be used to limit the extent of the recall campaigns.

 

Let’s talk about the future. How do you think that risks will develop in the years to come?

We are indisputably seeing a clear increase in serial occurrences in goods with electric batteries, in particular New Personal Electric Transporters: bikes, scooters, hoverboards, etc. as was the case for mobile electrical products a while ago (computers, telephones, etc.), the sharp increase in sales and the constant striving to improve the battery life will need some time to develop reliability. This comes with an additional constraint due to the more extreme conditions of use: impacts, vibrations, weather conditions, etc. Lithium-Ion technology also makes it possible to store a lot more energy, which, in the event of an incident, can be very dangerous because of fire and explosion risks. To limit the risks, it is essential to scrupulously follow the instructions in user manuals.

 

Olivier RICHARD, Deputy General Manager – Technical Department

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