ACCC on product safety – policy and priorities

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has raised the profile of product safety over the past month. Following its work on the massive compulsory recall of Takata airbags, the ACCC has taken some key steps to promote the cause of product safety more broadly.

Chairman Rod Sims calls for a general safety provision

The Australian Consumer Law is currently under review, including a number of aspects relating to product safety. The review is being undertaken in various stages, but the ‘big ticket’ item is the recommendation that the ACL contain a ‘General safety provision’.

The Australian Consumer Law currently contains no express prohibition from selling unsafe products, including from knowingly doing so. I believe it’s important to examine the need for this type of law, as discussed in a previous blog article An Australian general safety provision?

In his speech to the 2018 Australian Consumer Congress last week, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims expressed strong support for a GSP. He drew comparisons with other, now established parts of the ACL:

It would be hard to imagine consumer protection today without the misleading and deceptive conduct or unconscionable conduct provisions of the ACL.

In the future, we need a world where it is hard to imagine life without a general safety provision.

Department of Treasury is currently developing a consultation regulation impact statement that will examine the costs and benefits of such a provision, and how to frame it. The paper is expected out in April 2018. Feedback will help inform the decision on the ACL review.

Separate product safety priority statement

The ACCC traditionally sets out its annual priorities for all areas of its work. This year for the first time it has also made a detailed statement of its priorities for product safety. It says this will continue in future years.

The priority statement also details the ACCC’s approach to risk assessment and management, which is helpful information to businesses and other stakeholders.

The product safety priorities are a combination of maximising recall effectiveness, working to address current known hazards, policy reform and marketplace monitoring. Specifically the list includes:

Product safety policy

  • expediting the huge recalls of Takata airbags and Infinity electrical cable
  • safety programs for button batteries, quad bikes, baby walkers and furniture & TV tip-overs
  • better product safety outcomes in online shopping
  • completing the mandatory standards reviews
  • market surveillance for several regulated products
  • contributing to the ACL and PC review responses

It’s a very large amount of work and the Commission’s limited resources will be stretched. The long-awaited review of several mandatory standards is already behind schedule and causing frustration in the market.

Well done to the ACCC for tackling all this in the name of consumer safety.