Saving lives through product testing

Bert Zoetbrood, Head of DEKRA Product Testing & Certification on safety at home and the networked society.

DEKRA product testers checking harmful substances and safe functionality. (Picture: DEKRA)

Mr Zoetbrood, the number of people killed in road traffic accidents is declining, but the number of those killed at home is increasing. What reasons do you see for this?
Zoetbrood: In Western countries, we can indeed see a reduction in road accidents. Statistics on road and work safety are more readily available and reliable than home safety statistics. Safety at home is highly dependent on the quality of products, their maintenance, and, of course, their proper use. Obviously, when consumers buy products, they naturally assume that they are safe for use. DEKRA is a big player in product safety testing and certification, working together with many stakeholders to ensure product safety on the road, at work and in the home. Unfortunately, there is a current increasing trend in the number of accidents at home, which is partly due to low quality, even dangerous products on offer in the market.

Could the high accident rate in the home also be due to the fact that accidents in other areas – such as accidents at work – immediately lead to extensive investigations?
Zoetbrood: Statistics on accidents at work are much more comprehensive. With regards to home safety, however, there are no statistics for certain areas. There are also statutory framework conditions regulating this. If a patient visits the doctor following an accident in the home, the cause is often not recorded. There are, however, statistics for other areas. For example, approximately 12,000 fires in houses and apartments in Great Britain were investigated during the years 2011 – 2014. The main cause for these fires was defective white goods, such as washing machines or driers.

Also related to product safety we have seen that a high percentage of consumer electrical products that are marketed in Europe are not safe and sometimes downright dangerous. For many categories of consumer products, the Self Declaration of Conformity (SDoC) system is applied to manufacturers and importers in the European Union, although many make use of independent certification companies.

The latest study performed by DEKRA and industry partners was presented to members of the European Commission and Parliament, as well as various other stakeholder, in Brussels last November. It revealed that 14 percent of electrical consumer products marketed based on SDoC in Europe are dangerous, and even more fail to comply with regulations. For third party tested and certified products this figure is less than 1%, which clearly shows that competent, independent third party testing truly adds value.

How could accidents in the home be reduced?
Zoetbrood: First of all, people need to be aware what dangers there are. Indeed the quality of the consumer products is important. Secondly, they need to be used correctly. And lastly it is important that they are properly maintained. You see, a big part of the responsibility lies with the users. This applies to using ladders and stairs, on which many people stumble or fall. In DEKRA we have installed an annual safety day on June 30th for our employees, where we draw their attention to safety in the broadest sense, not only at work. The DEKRA safety approach combines technology, standards and mindset.

What role can a technical testing organization like DEKRA play in reducing accidents in the home?
Zoetbrood: We are involved in testing electrical products used by consumers in the broadest sense. Although we originally focused on electrical safety, we have now significantly extended our activities to other service areas, such as chemical analysis, reliability and performance testing, electromagnetic compatibility and wireless connectivity testing. However, we have also diversified into new services, such as functional safety to assess if a product functions the way it is meant to, as well as cyber security. We see a trend towards making greater and greater demands of complex products. Many products are connected and communicate with each other; they have internet interfaces and software that receives regular updates. The testing of certain products for all these different aspects is increasingly the focus of a true safety partner. You can see this in the healthcare, IT and domestic appliances sectors, as well as the automotive industry. In our hyper-connected world, people need to feel confident that products are safe, secure and reliable. Furthermore, people are increasingly concerned about privacy and sustainability.

What role will the Internet of Things have to play in future with regards to safety in the home?
Zoetbrood: The Internet of Things will be the main driving force behind many innovations in coming years. Today there are around five billion devices connected to the internet; in five or six years this figure will be more like 50 billion. With that come new safety risks. The risk of receiving an electric shock will gradually diminish, but there will be more and new types of risk, such as internet criminality. There are already cars on the road that receive software updates weekly or monthly. The legal ramifications of this remain unclear. When not properly tested and  verified, a new update could impair the functionality and safety of the entire product. We will have to inspect and certify more and more software and product functionality in the future, using new methods such as online testing and even provide real-time certification. These will provide important growth opportunities for DEKRA. The aim of our services is to contribute to a safe and networked world.

What role will robots have to play in the home?
Zoetbrood: I believe that robots will play an increasingly important role. This is why we are participating in the setup of a robot testing center here in Arnhem in the Netherlands. One of the target industries is that of healthcare. We believe that robots in hospitals and retirement homes, as well as in the home, will improve the life of the elderly and the sick. Patients will be able to leave hospital sooner after operations and be monitored around the clock by devices in their own home. One of our customers, for example, has developed monitoring devices for heart-attack patients. For a certain period these patients are at heightened risk of suffering a further cardiac arrest. There are now early-warning systems to counter this. These systems are already being used in the USA, the Netherlands and in Great Britain. They reduce the risk of someone dying due to heart failure, whilst also significantly reducing healthcare costs. This is one way of combating rising costs for an aging population.

What will DEKRA be testing in the future?
Zoetbrood: The Internet of Things is the main trend we are currently focusing on. Connectivity and convergence are the focus of our strategy. We see interoperability, software and network capability as the driving force behind new product development. We believe that connected mobility and urbanization will also greatly affect the environment in which we operate. DEKRA has taken a leading position in many areas, such as medical technology, the home, mobile devices and electrical installations in both industrial and residential buildings. We have the requisite technical abilities, and our range of testing services is becoming ever broader. We believe that independent product testing helps businesses innovate and thrive in a connected world, while at the same time making it a safer place to live and work.

Read more: Infographics: The highest accident risks lurk in the home

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