October 2017 marks 30 years that I have worked in consumer product safety. I enjoyed 25 years in government consumer agencies and I now run my own product safety advocacy and consultancy business.
Much has changed in that time.
My product safety career began in a one-person regional office, reporting to a manager more than 600 kilometres away. In those circumstances, I had to find my way through the product safety maze; building knowledge of safety principles, risk management, legal compliance, technical standards and how to communicate it all.
I worked in federal government agencies from 1987 to 2012. In that time I:
- managed the creation and development of the ACCC’s Product Safety Australia website, 2010
- was on the keynote speaker platform at the first international product safety conference held in China, 2007
- helped write the business case for ISO standard 10377 – Consumer product safety – Guidelines for suppliers, published in 2013
- survived 2007, the international ‘Year of the Recall’ – with Mattel’s recall of 19 million toys with lead paint and many other products. That year my colleagues and I literally saved Christmas in Australia as reactionary policies were going to force all toys off the shelves until we came up with a compromise
- testified, around 2008, in the Federal Magistrates Court in a case about a giant inflatable banana
- was interviewed, around 1992, on National Nine News defending the recall ordered on loose leaf tea that contained traces of rat faeces (while the supplier had argued it was within acceptable limits)
How product safety has changed
Back in 1993, I led a Federal Court case (O’Bryen vs Coles Myer) against Australia’s leading retail company that had sold – and failed to prevent future sales of – flammable and misleadingly labelled children’s nightwear. As a result of that case, the company implemented a new store checkout mechanism to block sale of any unsafe and non-compliant item that should not be sold. Other retailers followed suit. Now, of course, using technology that way is fundamental to retail.
In 2015 I explored the impact that 3D printing will have on product safety with a White Paper. This year I’ve done some work with both the OECD and ICPHSO on how the Internet of Things might affect product safety – there’s potential there for positive and negative impacts.
My work as a consultant and advocate
I’m currently enjoying a variety of work – both paid and unpaid. I advise and train product suppliers on making sure their products are safe and compliant with standards, as well as getting an occasional gig as an expert witness. I also enjoy the opportunity to work with others to make improvements across the sector, such as developing a best practice guide on furniture tip-over prevention with the National Retail Association; and to advocate for change, such as introducing a general safety provision in Australia.
There’s much to be done. In my 2016 blog arguing for a general safety provision, I list the changes in the consumer market that are making product safety more and more challenging. Australia has limited resources dedicated to product safety and needs a system to attract and train new people to the area. That’s something I’m working on.
My website is designed as a Go To place for guidance and resources for understanding product safety. I’m always adding something new. On the website you’ll find:
- 60+ articles on a range of topics
- guidance e-books and a white paper on 3D printing
- original and curated product safety videos (via my YouTube channel)
- a series of podcasts with leading product safety experts
- a free product safety checklist
- links to heaps of helpful resources
So, you’re invited to explore the site: www.productsafetysolutions.com.au and, of course, to sign up for updates.