Australia’s consumer watchdog has pushed for the introduction of national minimum safety laws, complaining that consumers are vulnerable to purchasing dangerous goods.
Speaking at the National Consumer Congress 2018, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims said his agency is garnering support for general safety provisions to be enshrined in law.
“Most consumers are surprised to learn that it is not illegal to sell unsafe products in Australia. Indeed they purchase products with the expectation that they are safe,” said Mr Sims.
“This is a totally reasonable expectation. Consumers put their trust in suppliers and known brand names as we are generally not in a position to assess hidden safety hazards at the point of sale ourselves.”
According to Mr Sims, the ACCC receives in the vicinity of 10,600 reports about product safety each year. This includes 3,100 notices which are compulsory in the event of a death or injury.
“Why do we need a general safety provision? We need it because our current product safety laws are essentially reactive. They normally only come into play after a problem has occurred,” Mr Sims said.
“Like doctors, we believe that prevention is better than cure. We want to ensure that the goods and goods related services supplied in Australia are safe from the outset, and stop injuries and illnesses occurring in the first place.”
For businesses, particularly SMEs, that may be reluctant to have yet more regulation heaped on them, Mr Sims said that such safety laws need not be “a costly reform”.
“Businesses that do incur additional costs will likely be those that don’t have proper product stewardship practices in place already,” he said.
“Putting these in place will in many instances save money for businesses in the long run as they improve the quality of their products and help them avoid expensive and reputation damaging recalls.
“[Plus,] a general safety provision presents an opportunity for better and more innovative product offerings as consumers are more likely to trust them.”
In 2018, Mr Sims said that ACCC will be focusing on a number of areas it deemed as being “critical safety issues”.
Most notable is the compulsory recalls of all vehicles with the faulty Takata airbags. Others include improving the safety of quad bikes, which claim an average of 16 lives annually; the recall of Infinity electrical cables; reducing the risk to children from button batteries, as well as baby walkers and toppling furniture; products sold over the internet; and a review of 66 current compulsory safety standards to ensure business compliance.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.