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Improving the effectiveness of the consumer product safety system

Improving the effectiveness of the consumer product safety system

Professor Luke Nottage.

Full article issued by The University of Sydney and The Conversation.

Research by an ARC-supported team including Professor Luke Nottage, from The University of Sydney Law School, has shown that unsafe children’s products are entering the Australian market, with increasing levels of product safety recalls in recent years. Australia had higher per capita voluntary recalls than Korea, the United Kingdom, Japan and the US between 2017 and 2019, and about 40% of those recalls involve child products, of which around 60% come from China.

Co-researchers including Dr Catherine Niven from the Queensland University of Technology also found that overall, Australian child-related recalls increased by 88% over 7 years. In comparison, US child-related recalls decreased by 21% over the same period. That difference could be related to the fact that in the US, manufacturers of a children’s product imported into the USA must issue a third-party certificate stating that the product complies with regulatory safety requirements.

Fewer recalls in the UK is also arguably due to a general safety provision (GSP) introduced there from 1987, and across Europe from 1992, requiring manufacturers and importers to ensure consumer products are safe before putting them on the market. Canada introduced also added this requirement in 2010, with government figures finding a significant drop in recalls from 2011 and no increase annually after that – unlike Australia.

'The attitude among suppliers here seems to be increasingly: 'let’s just import or supply the product, see what happens; if we get reports of injuries or complaints, and especially if the regulators query us, let’s issue a voluntary recall and hope that solves the problem',' says Professor Nottage.

Based on such comparative research, he is calling for a GSP to be added to the Australian Consumer Law, in a Treasury-led public consultation. This new provision would require suppliers to think more carefully about (and document) safety assessments before putting products into circulation.

'At the moment there is a power to mandate safety requirements for particular types of goods, but there are only about 44 of those in force, and they focus on the really high risk products like aquatic equipment, and toys for young children. These safety requirements only come into place after there have been enough deaths or near misses, and many involving children’s products are not being complied with,' says Professor Nottage.

Dr Nottage says that the next step in the research project will be to collect hospital data on the kinds of injuries that are being caused by different products, and compare that with the US where much better hospital data is collected. They will then be able to see if there is a mismatch in Australia between what the regulators do and do not regulate, and what products the injury data shows are causing actual harm. 

'There might be things that we are missing that will show up in the hospital data,' says Professor Nottage. 'Of course, a well-regulated product would show up as an absence of hospital data!'


Professor Luke Nottage. Image Credit: The University of Sydney Law School.

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