Teams will check that toys and electrical appliances sold in the capital meet government standards.
Inspectors monitor product quality across Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI// Armed with a black binder and a suitcase filled with weights, Khaled Al Aberi and Ali Al Bisher are a well-oiled team.
Mr Al Bisher dons a single white glove to transfer the weights onto gold and perfume scales. Mr Al Aberi scribbles notes and issues warnings to shops with inaccurate scales; small fluctuations can make a big price difference for the valuable products.
The young men are part of a growing cadre of inspectors monitoring product quality in the emirate's shops. Employed by a one-year-old agency - the Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council (QCC) - they check if toys and electrical appliances meet government standards.
They also check and re-check the scales in gold and perfume shops.
"Before, nobody focused on these things," said Mr Al Aberi, from Abu Dhabi.
QCC inspectors handled about 7,000 products last year.
"We are trying to create a new mindset: a culture that tells the consumer, let's look for quality," said Anas Al Barguthi, the QCC's executive director of consumer and market services.
The agency wants to expand its reach swiftly. Staff plan to verify scales in supermarkets soon.
Working with the Department of Municipal Affairs and the Urban Planning Council, the QCC are also developing a project to certify water fixtures such as taps and shower heads.
"When it comes to an electrical adaptor or a water fixture, people say, 'Why should I pay more for the same?'" Mr Al Barguthi said. "It's not the same."
The toy campaign targets products for children younger than three. The inspectors check for a sticker that certifies the toy meets GCC Standardization Organization requirements.
They also check electrical appliances - such as extension cords and adaptors - for a sticker from the Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology, a federal agency.
If the product has no sticker and there is no certificate showing it meets standards, inspectors ask shop managers to stop selling the product until they can verify it is safe.
"You would be surprised how many technical appliances are being sold, some with a conformity mark that is not genuine," said Abdalla Hassan Al Muaini, QCC director of consumer safety services. Such appliances could cause short-circuiting or fires.
Uncertified products are not necessarily unsafe, just unknown to the government, Mr Al Muaini said. Inspectors take samples of the products and send them to a laboratory for testing.
The QCC has 24 inspectors, with plans to employ six more by June.
Mr Al Bisher, 22, and Mr Al Aberi, 23, inspect three to five shops a day. Yesterday they visited Marina Mall, Mr Al Bisher toting the suitcase of weights to a gold shop. He used a pair of tweezers to transfer the lightest weights onto the scale - set inside the glass to protect it from passing air.
At an Arabic perfume store nearby, the scale sat uncovered on a counter.
"It's very sensitive," Mr Al Aberi said, as a breeze caused the empty instrument to cycle between 0.09 and 0.14 grams. The variation was within an acceptable margin of error, Mr Al Aberi said. He urged the manager to place the scale in a covered area to keep it calibrated.
Next the inspectors visited a large supermarket. In the toy section, Mr Al Aberi examined a plastic turtle and pointed to the certification sticker.
Rifling through extension cords, the inspectors found some without stickers or certificates.
"We will give you a warning, for seven days," Mr Al Aberi told a supermarket supervisor. "If it's not written in these papers, remove it from your shelf now, stop selling, until you get the certificate."
For now the inspectors issue warnings, but not fines. QCC officials want to educate retailers first, convincing them to engage with the agency.
"We are realistic," said Mr Al Barguthi. "What's the point of having the market behave in a way that circumvents our requirements?"