Product safety

Under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), which took effect on 1 January 2011, Australia now has a national product safety system. The national product safety system covers consumer products that are for personal, family or household use. It also covers services that are related to products, including the installation, maintenance, repair, cleaning, assembly or delivery of consumer products.

Under the ACL, the Australian Government can:

  • ban products permanently
  • impose mandatory safety standards
  • impose information standards, requiring that certain information about a product be provided to consumers before or at the time of purchase.

The Australian government, as well as state and territory governments are also able to issue safety warning notices, and issue compulsory recall notices requiring businesses to recall a product.

Bans

A ban is made to protect consumers when there is a risk that a product may cause serious injury, illness or death. It is illegal to trade in banned products in Australia.

Bans can be permanent, or they can be temporary – known as interim bans. There are currently 21 permanently banned products in Australia.

Mandatory standards

Mandatory standards are sets of rules for making and selling products that could otherwise cause injury, illness or death. In other words, mandatory standards help make certain products safer for consumers. If a product or product-related service is covered by a mandatory standard and doesn’t comply with all its requirements, it is illegal to sell it in Australia.

Some consumer goods or product-related services are subject to a mandatory information standard which requires that certain information is provided with the product. For example, information standards apply to ingredient labelling for cosmetics and care labelling for clothing and textile products.

Recalls

A recall is when a consumer product is removed from sale or supply after it has been found to be unsafe. Suppliers or government regulators can determine that a product needs to be recalled.

Most recalls are voluntary, meaning that the supplier recalls the product and immediately notifies the Government. Recalls can also be compulsory, meaning that the Australian Government or a state or territory government directly orders the product recall.

Penalties (fines)

Under the ACL, suppliers can face big penalties for trading in products that are banned or do not comply with mandatory standards. Fines can be:

  • up to $1.1 million for companies
  • up to $220,000 for individuals.

 

Tips on selling, buying and using products safely.

  • If you plan to sell a consumer product, first check productsafety to make sure the product isn’t banned and to see if it needs to comply with a mandatory standard.
  • If a customer complains to you about a product you have sold, made, imported, and/or distributed having caused harm or death – even if you are not sure it’s true or if it’s your product – you must submit a mandatory report within two days via
  • If you are a retailer selling a product that needs to comply with a mandatory standard, check with your supplier that it complies. If needed, ask for certificates that prove the product has been tested.
  • If you are buying something and need to know whether it’s safe and complies with safety regulations, including whether it’s been tested, ask the retailer. They should be able to give you this information.
  • If you buy a product, borrow one or receive one as a gift, always read and follow any safety instructions or warnings very carefully. If you think a product you’ve bought is unsafe, report it to the ACCC or to NSW Fair Trading (or equivalent in your state or territory). You should also report it to the supplier.

Check out for a comprehensive list of products and tips

Mandatory reporting

Under the ACL, suppliers of consumer products and related services are required to report deaths, serious injuries or illnesses associated with consumer products. This requirement is known as ‘mandatory reporting’.

All participants in the supply chain of a consumer product are responsible for mandatory reporting. This includes a retailer, dealer, hirer, distributor, installer, repairer, importer, manufacturer and/or exporter of the products in question. Similarly, anyone in product-related services linked to the products are required to report incidents. This could include installers and service technicians. Suppliers have to submit a mandatory report within two days of learning about an incident.

 

Case study: Big W children's sleepwear

In September 2009, Big W carried out an urgent voluntary recall of 27 styles of children’s pyjamas, nighties and other sleepwear. During a routine product check, the ACCC had found that these styles were incorrectly labelled as ‘low fire danger’, when in fact they were highly flammable (meaning they will catch fire and burn easily). In October 2009, Big W recalled eight more styles of children’s sleepwear for the same reason.

Under the mandatory standard for children’s nightwear, these products need a specific warning label that says whether the clothing is high or low fire danger. To figure out which label it needs, the clothing needs to be tested. Testing had revealed that the BigW sleepwear should have been labelled ‘warning high fire danger keep away from fire’.

The mandatory standard is in place to help parents keep their kids safe from severe burns and death when they’re around fire and heat sources, such as heaters, fireplaces and in kitchens. All clothing is flammable, but some children’s sleepwear can ignite and burn a lot more quickly than other types of clothing, and so the labels help parents to know the level of danger.

After this recall, Woolworths Limited (the company that owns Big W) took further corrective action with:

  • issuing a public apology notice in December 2009
  • ordering a large review into the labelling error and the procedures that were in place
  • developing and implementing an Action Plan (which was developed after the results of the review), to help ensure the error won’t happen again
  • undertaking to the ACCC that it will no longer supply children’s nightwear products that do not comply with the mandatory standard
  • conducting a review of its recall procedures
  • developing and implementing a training program for its buying and quality assurance staff to help ensure they comply with the mandatory standard
  • giving funding of $200,000 for a research project into the mandatory standard, and
  • making a $200,000 donation to the Sydney’s Children’s Hospital.