01 Apr 2021

The ACCC's product safety focus in 2021: bikes, babies and button batteries included

By Will Atfield, Greg Williams and Alex Corsaro

The ACCC will use additional resources from the Australian Federal Government to increase its product safety capabilities as it pursues five priorities for 2021.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) sets areas of priority for each year in addition to its core functions. Last week, the Chair of the ACCC, Mr Rod Sims, used his appearance at the National Consumer Congress 2021 to set out the ACCC's five Product Safety Priorities for 2021 in addressing the risks of unsafe consumer goods.

1. Conducting education, surveillance and enforcement in relation to the quad bike safety standard

According to Mr Sims, the ACCC has renewed this priority in light of a record of 23 deaths involving quad bikes in 2020.

The Consumer Goods (Quad Bikes) Safety Standard 2019 was made in October 2019, and included requirements which apply to quad bikes from 11 October 2020 including in relation to the provision of warnings to owners and operators of quad bikes, and technical design standards.

Further requirements apply from 11 October 2021, including minimum stability requirements and a requirement for quad bikes to have an operator protection device. The ACCC will be focusing on monitoring compliance with the existing requirements and educating about the next phase of requirements coming in October.

2. Implementing the new safety standards for button batteries

Mr Sims said that, in Australia, there have been three deaths in the past eight years, and at least one child each month suffers severe injury as a result of button batteries.

The ACCC first identified button batteries as product safety priority in 2019. In December 2020, in what was a world-first, the Australian Federal Government announced mandatory safety standards for button batteries. Mr Sims explained that the technical standards would improve safety in products containing button batteries and button battery packaging and improve warnings to consumers.

The new technical standards impose requirements for consumer goods, packaging and accessories containing button batteries. This could include remote controls, computers and fitness devices. The standards address requirements including about design and construction, testing and warnings.

The ACCC will focus on promoting compliance with the standards during the transition period which allows time for manufacturers and suppliers to address the new requirements. The technical standards will apply from June 2022.

3. Implementing strategies for unsafe infant sleeping products

Last year the ACCC began a market review into unsafe infant sleeping products. This involved analysis of incident data, scientific literature and approaches taken in other jurisdictions. In 2021, the ACCC will continue the review by consulting with industry to assess the potential safety risks associated with infant inclined sleeping products, to identify appropriate strategies for improving the safety of these products.

These steps are in addition to there already being mandatory Australian standards applying to other products intended for children including household and folding cots, baby dummies and dummy chains, toys for children up to 36 months, child restraints for motor vehicles, children's nightwear, and prams and strollers.

4. Strengthening product safety online through commitments from online marketplaces

In November 2020, four of Australia’s largest online marketplaces (eBay Australia, Amazon Australia, AliExpress and Catch.com.au) signed the Australian Product Safety Pledge, which seeks to protect Australian consumers shopping online from product safety risks. It encourages signatories to demonstrate their commitment to product safety and to report on their product safety initiatives. The ACCC is encouraging other similar businesses to join this pledge.

In 2021, the ACCC has prioritised strengthening product safety online through education, engagement and monitoring of compliance commitments by online marketplace companies.

5. Scoping effective risk controls for toppling furniture

According to Mr Sims, the ACCC estimates that around 2,600 Australians each year receive hospital treatment for injuries caused by toppling furniture and televisions, equating to approximately 50 people per week. Mr Sims also stated that 22 children under 9 years of age have died between 2011 and 2018 from these types of incidents.

Recently the ACCC has found that industry self-regulation is not leading to sufficiently safe practices in this space, after assessing the industry’s implementation of the Best Practice Guide for Furniture and Television Tip-Over Prevention.

In response, the ACCC will focus on scoping more effective measures to prevent such injuries and deaths. More specifically, the ACCC's response will include:

  • working with State and Territory regulators to understand the risks;
  • gaining a better understanding of the potentially unsafe furniture on the market; and
  • exploring whether to impose technical standards.

The ACCC's core product safety work

In addition to the ACCC's five Product Safety Priorities for 2021, Mr Sims emphasised that the ACCC will continue its core product safety work, including:

  • assessing product safety hazards and monitoring recalls;
  • conducting product surveillance; and
  • overseeing mandatory safety standards.

Mr Sims also used the National Consumer Congress last week as a platform to announce that the ACCC would use additional resources from the Australian Federal Government to increase its product safety capabilities by building upon its current team, and moving it into a dedicated stand-alone division. This statement is a clear message to all manufacturers and suppliers about the ACCC's attitude to consumer product safety.

All manufacturers and suppliers whose goods make their way into the hands of Australian consumers must ensure that their products are safe and comply with all applicable legislation and technical standards. If unsafe or non-compliant products make their way into Australian consumers' hands, manufacturers and suppliers must take timely and appropriate action to alert consumers to the risk and remove the product from the market. If not, they may be exposed to regulatory penalties or civil claims.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.