The ACCC identifies product safety priorities each year which reflect key product categories to target and other initiatives in relation to consumer product safety. Last month, the new ACCC Deputy Chair responsible for consumer product safety, Catriona Lowe, set out the priorities for 2023-24 in her address to the National Consumer Congress in Melbourne.
Product safety online
The first priority to address is "product safety online". This reflects a recognition of the challenges to consumer safety presented by the digital economy and online marketplaces, which have been amplified by consumer's behavioral shift toward a preference for online shopping in the wake of COVID-19.
The ACCC will strengthen its detection and prevention of unsafe product listings online by using surveillance. It will also develop best practices to reduce the safety risks from second-hand goods sold online.
There are two ways in which the regulator seeks to achieve this goal. First, by developing strategies and encouraging suppliers to adopt best practices to prevent and detect the sale of unsafe goods online, including monitoring unsafe, non-compliant and banned products online using surveillance technology. Second, by collaborating with other regulators, both domestically and internationally, to support initiatives to address emerging local and global safety issues.
Infant sleep products
The ACCC will continue its focus on infant sleep products.
This year, the ACCC has broadened the parameters of this priority, and will focus on implementing strategies to prevent and address safety risks and hazards, including injuries and deaths associated with inclined sleep products and sleep aids.
The ACCC will investigate sleep products of "highest concern" and take enforcement action where appropriate. This will involve engaging with other regulators in relation to the risks presented by these products to identify emerging trends.
Products considered "highest concern" will likely be informed by stakeholder responses to the consultation paper published by the ACCC in August last year, submissions to which closed on 11 September 2022.
The ACCC will also:
- Increase consumer awareness of safety risks through educative initiatives focusing on supporting more informed buying decisions by consumers, such as the Your First Steps website launched on 1 August 2022.
- Continue the development of mandatory standards for infant sleep products and consider amendments to existing safety standards to cover these products.
- Encourage supply chain participants to conduct due diligence before offering products for sale, arguably placing a greater onus on retailers and suppliers to be able to justify to the ACCC that the infant sleep products they are selling comply with the relevant safety standards.
Young children's product safety
Another priority is the safety of children under 3 years of age.
The ACCC will undertake a "broad body of work" encompassing compliance, enforcement and education initiatives focused on consumer products for young children, such as toys for children under 3 years of age, products containing button or coin batteries, and toppling furniture. It will adopt a three-staged approach:
- Regulatory and enforcement action against business that are not adhering to regulatory requirements, such as the mandatory standards for button batteries introduced in June 2022.
- Collaborating with suppliers to improve the effectiveness of product recalls where these products are involved. This is no doubt informed by the ACCC's publication of updated guidelines for conducting product recalls earlier this year.
- Increasing consumer awareness activities to facilitate knowledge of the safety risks and hazards presented by these products.
Sustainability and maintaining product safety
The ACCC's fourth and final product safety priority is sustainability and maintaining product safety. This reflects the recent trend in Australian consumers making "more environmentally conscious" decisions and the transformation of the usual product and disposal lifecycle to include the "circular economy" which involves reusing.
The ACCC will focus on supporting consumer confidence in the safety of environmentally sustainable products and ensuring that product safety is not a bar to the pursuit of environmental and sustainability objectives by governments and industry.
The ACCC will adopt a four-staged approach:
- Publishing its scoping study on the potential safety risks presented by lithium-ion batteries and, if required, suggesting risk mitigation strategies (such as improvements to the regulatory framework to support the transition of households to renewable energy systems and electrical products). This follows the publication of an issues paper in December 2022 which sought stakeholder feedback to assist with scoping the hazards presented by lithium-ion batteries and identifying potential strategies to mitigate and prevent those risks. Submissions closed on 3 February 2023 and a final report is pending.
- Considering ways to ensure key safety requirements in standards made under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) are sufficiently available to successive owners of products (for example, purchasers of second-hand goods).
- Updating recall guidelines to cover the circular economy and capture, for example, the reuse and recycling of products and/or their component parts.
- Considering the development of best practices to reduce safety risks from reused or second-hand goods that are sold online.