There are around 15 000 types of products available in Australia, but this number increases greatly when you factor in different brands. The product safety system in Australia is a mixture of measures that relies on consumers, suppliers and government agencies working together to ensure new and existing products work safely. This combination of measures includes:
voluntary actions by suppliers
government laws that give incentives for making safe products
restrictions on selling unsafe products
information and education that enables consumers to choose safe products and use them safely.
Any products that fall outside the specific product categories are known as general consumer products. These are usually products for personal use around the home. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and state and territory consumer protection agencies monitor, promote and oversee their safety. While these agencies do not check and regulate all consumer products, there are certain voluntary and compulsory rules that work to minimise risks. These include:
Many suppliers refer to voluntary standards, which may include safety elements, when making products or buying stock. They do this to ensure that the goods they supply are safe, which prevents them having to conduct recalls. It is not compulsory to meet requirements of voluntary standards. It is compulsory to comply with mandatory standards, many of which are based on aspects of voluntary standards.
Where evidence shows that consumer products are particularly risky, regulations in the form of bans and mandatory standards are developed. People often think that all products sold in Australia have to meet safety standards. This is not correct - bans and mandatory standards are only made when evidence indicates a risk of serious injury, illness or death associated with a product.
Since products are constantly changing due to new fashions, designs and technologies, regulators continually watch the market to identify and manage the risk of any unsafe products appearing on retail shelves and online. The cooperation of consumers and suppliers is essential in helping identify risky products that may need regulating.
When suppliers become aware of defective or unsafe products, they can conduct a voluntary recall to remove the product from the marketplace. Under the Australian Consumer Law, a responsible Minister can also order a compulsory recall, if required. The ACCC administers a national database, website and information system for recalls of specific and general consumer products.
Read about the history of the Commonwealth consumer product safety framework in Australia, including a timeline and some of the more interesting unsafe products that are no longer available in the Australian market.