Consumers, businesses, government agencies, safety experts, standards writers and consumer advocates work together to maximise the safety of goods sold and used in Australia.
How the product safety system works
There are over 15 000 types of products available in Australia, with each being produced by multiple brands. To ensure that these products work safely, the Australian product safety system relies on the cooperation of consumers, suppliers, and government agencies. The system is also supported through a combination of measures which promote product safety.
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.
Product safety regulators
Different government agencies are responsible for monitoring and regulating the safety of different types of products:
- a number of agencies cover specific products such as foods, drugs and chemicals
- Commonwealth, state and territory consumer protection agencies cover general consumer products that don't fit into specific categories
- local governments play a role in some sectors such as food.
When a product does not easily fit within a particular regulator’s coverage, agencies will work together to find the best way to manage its safety.
Specific types of products
Particular government agencies monitor and regulate the safety of certain specific types of products, including:
- boats and marine safety
- building and building materials
- drugs and therapeutic goods
- electrical goods
- gas appliances
- road vehicles and road traffic safety
- veterinary products.
See: Who regulates what
General consumer products
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 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:
- voluntary standards
- bans and mandatory standards
- product liability.
Product safety rules
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.
Bans and mandatory 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 recalls system for recalls of specific and general consumer products, and publishes all product recalls on this website.
The product liability laws and recall provisions support the system of regulations and voluntary standards.
See: Product liability
Role of international organisations
The Australian Government, state and territory governments, and business and consumer organisations, work with their overseas counterparts to support the product safety system.
Several organisations work to promote international collaboration, including:
- International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
- International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO)
- Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC)
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)