Businesses have “no general obligation to make sure the products they sell are safe” and faulty products are causing hundreds of deaths each year, consumer group CHOICE said in a scathing attack on Australia’s product safety laws.
The product safety campaigner at the group, Amy Pereira, described the existing regulatory framework as “shamefully weak”, and said that many people are needlessly being killed or injured as a result.
“Weak product safety laws harm people. Each year, there are around 780 deaths and around 52,000 injuries caused by unsafe products. Without stronger product safety laws, these unnecessary deaths and injuries will continue,” Ms Pereira said, citing ACCC figures.
“We need new laws that require basic and sensible safety checks for products before they make it into our homes.”
In a submission to Treasury’s consultation on improving the effectiveness of the consumer product safety system, CHOICE said that its analysis showed the number of product recalls each year has tripled over the last 20 years, from less than 200 in 1998 to almost 700 in 2018.
“Product recalls have tripled since 1998 — that’s millions of unsafe products that should have been stopped before they got to shelves, now in people’s homes,” Ms Pereira said.
“Australia has been let down by successive governments over the last two decades who have allowed unsafe products to flood into our homes.”
She continued by suggesting that Australians are “in the dark when it comes to product safety”, believing that laws are already in place to protect them from dangerous products.
“Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar has the opportunity to make Australians safer with a General Safety Provision. We need new legal protections to make companies check to see if products are safe before they go on sale,” the campaigner said.
“Stronger safety laws work around the world; it’s time for Australia to catch up.”
‘Current level of consumer harm is unacceptable’
In its submission, CHOICE claimed that “the current system is not working”, which is ultimately leading to “an unacceptable risk that consumers... may be exposed to harm in their daily lives”.
It included a number of examples from consumers it had been alerted to, such as:
- “a rotary cheese grater that ground metal into the cheese” which was then consumed
- burns caused by a stainless steel saucepan whose “handle heated up to the same temperature as the pot”
- and a blender that sent ice and shards of glass from the jug “flying at high speed right at eye level”
The consumer lobby group is pushing for a regulatory system that is more proactive than reactive, urging the government to:
- implement a new general safety duty under Australian Consumer Law
- introduce new protection powers and enforcement provisions to regulators
- increase the level of education and industry engagement around the implementation of new rules
Over 1 million recalled products still in circulation
The prospect of a new safety duty was outlined by the ACCC in October, which said that it is alerted to around 650 consumer product recalls Australia-wide each year, but only half of these faulty products are actually returned to sellers.
As a result, the regulator believes there are some 1.7 million recalled products still being used within Australian households.
The ACCC has long pushed for the introduction of new product safety laws at a national level.
At the National Consumer Congress back in 2018, its chair Rod Sims said that “most consumers are surprised to learn that it is not illegal to sell unsafe products in Australia”, and it is “a totally reasonable expectation” for consumers to believe that products are actually safe to use at the time of purchase.
He repeated the calls at this year’s Congress in March, stating “there is no law that says goods have to be safe, but there should be”.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.