Recent recalls of toys and consumer products involving reputable international retailers and their suppliers in the mainland, have drawn worldwide public attention to the issue of consumer product safety. Authorities in major consumer markets, particularly the United States, have tightened product safety regulations, such as those restricting lead content in toys. Heightened consumer awareness of product safety issues has increased pressure on retailers and parties in the supply chain, according to Francis Yuk Kei-ching, president of supply chain services at Intertek Testing Service Hong Kong, a leading professional quality and safety solutions testing agent with a global network of more than 1,000 laboratories and offices in 110 countries. 'To ensure their exports meet increasingly stringent product safety standards in major markets, manufacturers have become more reliant on the services provided by professional product testing laboratories,' Mr Yuk said. 'Hong Kong's transformation into a product research and development centre is expected to sustain the demand for testing services.' Although many local suppliers have relocated manufacturing to the mainland, they have continued the development of samples and mock-ups in the city. 'Many large buying agents for international companies have also maintained their major operations in the city,' he added. The European Union recently introduced regulations for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (Reach). David Horlock, vice-president of new services development at Bureau Veritas in Hong Kong, said the regulations required retailers and their suppliers to provide full information on the chemical content of their products. The objective of Reach is to control risks to human health and the environment resulting from the use of chemicals. 'Knowing what is in the product and putting in place a sustainable system to identify, monitor and control the use of chemical substances across the supply chain is essential to Reach compliance,' Mr Horlock said. Bureau Veritas, a multinational company specialising in conformity assessment and certification services for a wide variety of products, operates a dozen offices and laboratories in the mainland and Hong Kong. For many manufacturers, complying with Reach can be a challenge as they are not aware of all the chemical substances in their merchandise, and whether they may cause any harm to users or the environment. '[For instance] many shoe producers do not know the chemical content of the glue they use,' Mr Horlock said. Manufacturers need to know if their products contain any 'substances of high concern' and then weigh the options of whether they should continue to use them. 'The biggest pressure is likely to be from consumer rights groups and NGO's that will target retailers selling products which are not Reach compliant,' he said. Bureau Veritas has developed a system to help manufacturers identify and register the chemicals in their products so that they will be Reach compliant. With increasing demand for product testing and certification by manufacturers and overseas buyers, both Intertek and Bureau Veritas have embarked on major recruitment drives and provide employees with additional technological training in anticipation of a surge in the demand for their services. 'We are building capacity in human resources and testing labs to offer [upgraded] services to our global brand product manufacturers,' Mr Horlock said. The laboratories at Intertek's Hong Kong operation employ more than 600 technical professionals. Loretta Cheng Lai-wah, assistant human resources manager, said the company would increase its lab workforce by between 10 and 15per cent this year. Mr Yuk said Intertek's laboratories in Hong Kong operated around the clock with three shifts. Although basic principles of chemical testing of various products are similar, Bureau Veritas has provided its lab engineers continuing training to build up specialised knowledge in products other than food. 'Most of my team members have a food and chemical engineering background,' Mr Horlock said. 'They have extensive experience and expertise in food chemical hazards.' Mr Yuk said Intertek, which ran laboratories for consumer products in a dozen manufacturing hubs in the mainland, aimed to develop its Hong Kong office into a global consumer product testing service training centre. Intertek offers 'lab cross-training' to help diversify the skill sets of its lab engineers and technicians. A programme of technology know-how transfer was also implemented by Intertek for its Hong Kong and mainland operations, Mr Yuk added. 'Hong Kong lab engineers organise courses to share expertise in testing components of toys, consumer electronics and textiles while mainland experts on cashmere update Hong Kong engineers on the specialised testing techniques of this material. This caters to the needs of Hong Kong buying offices,' he said.