Managing a product safety issue always presents challenges. Having a solid recall plan – and executing a dry run –is a sure way to put your company in a strong position to meet the challenges of a recall head-on. However, the global effect of Covid-19 now presents companies with an extra layer of issues to consider when executing an existing recall plan.

As the pandemic landscape is constantly evolving, approaches to recall action are likely to need to vary across states and between international jurisdictions.Strategies are likely to need to be re-evaluated and re-formulated as Covid-19 hotspots change.

Additional issues to consider in the wake of Covid-19 include:

  • Monitoring a potential safety incident – Has the pandemic had an effect on how regularly your product is purchased and used?Have distribution chains been disrupted? Could these factors influence the pattern of incidents and period over which you receive reports of incidents from consumers?Do you need to re-evaluate how your company assesses safety trends?
  • Actioning a recall remotely – Are all of the documents that you need to investigate a potential safety issue and roll-out a recall available electronically and accessible remotely?Are you able to manage increased customer enquiries in the wake of a recall?If you have a preferred call-service provider, how are they functioning in the pandemic?
  • Making customers aware – Do you need to reevaluate the methods employed in alerting customers of a safety issue?Will notices in shop windows and at point-of-sale be effective?If lockdowns close all but essential retail outlets, will your message be seen?Will retail notices need to remain in place for longer, given potential reduced footfall? Local lockdowns may command different approaches. Additional and alternative communication methods may need to be employed in different areas.Tracking the shifting picture of local lockdowns may be necessary.
  • The logistics of returns and repairs – A request that customers return products to store for a replacement, repair or a refund may not be possible or appropriate. Retail outlets stocking your product may be closed due to Covid restrictions and return may not be immediately possible. The type of product to be recalled and demographic of the user group may also dictate the approach that you need to take.If your product is primarily used by those in a vulnerable group you may need to offer – and manage – a greater number of postal returns. Some very vulnerable individuals may not wish to venture outside of their homes.How this is to be managed will have to be assessed. Consideration will also need to be given to the safety and logistics of handling returns and repairs. Returned products will need to be handled in accordance with relevant guidelines on the persistence of Covid-19 on different surfaces and appropriate measures put in place. If repairs are to be carried out in consumers’ homes, the safety of doing so will need to be assessed.Repair activities may be postponed or take longer than pre-Covid. Will this be acceptable to consumers and regulators?
  • Supply chain issues - Do you need to source replacement products, new parts, machinery or materials for repairs?If so, is there any disruption to the supply chains?Could there be a delay in any repair program or compensation of customers?
  • Your own workforce – The safety of your own employees must not be overlooked.Recalls are commonly fast-paced and stressful.Demands are made on employees to assist with issues which may not form part of their usual work duties.Recall activites may fall outside of your existing plans of how to manage Covid-19 in the workplace.Employees should be reminded that their own safety is paramount.A clear indication should be given that Covid-related concerns should be raised with management without any reservation.

These are by no means the only issues that your company may need to consider in undertaking a Covid-19 recall.Each recall is unique and will raise its own set of challenges.The fluctuating Covid-19 situation across the globe is likely to make a consistent approach to carrying out a recall more complex and costly.However, companies can still manage a recall effectively by having a solid recall plan in place and being aware of the additional practical challenges posed by Covid-19.

It goes without saying that companies must still comply with existing regulatory obligations (particularly the timing of notifications to regulators), albeit that regulators may be more flexible given the practical constraints imposed by the Covid-19 situation and the importance of remaining safe.Continued dialogue with regulators will be evermore important as companies are now not only tasked with ensuring the safety of their customers in using their products, but also in the safety of those involved in executing the recall plan.