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4 minute read

Any Australian business that supplies products that use small silver ‘button’ batteries – or supplies the batteries themselves – will need to comply with new mandatory safety standards under the Australian Consumer Law which were declared in December.

After a long period of uncertainty, we now know what the requirements are. All businesses need to get onto implementation as soon as possible. Associations can lead the way.

The new mandatory standards allow 18 months for businesses to gear up and ensure compliance. But only some products need that long to come up to speed.

Catastrophic injuries

Swallowing a button battery can be catastrophic. Young children are the most likely to suffer injuries, so the impact on the rest of their lives (and their families’) can be dramatic. Many deaths have occurred around the world, including three in Australia. But for those who survive such injuries, the damage can be severe and long-lasting.

Serious injuries are still happening and it will be a while before the standards take effect.

Australian Story on ABC TV/iView is outlining the lead up to regulation this month, Sisters in Arms, featuring two mothers of children who have died from swallowing button batteries. ABC Radio National has produced a companion program on Background Briefing.

Which products?

Button battery regulation
Button battery regulation

Button batteries are used in thousands of different products across many consumer categories. The most common are household items such as car keys, torches, imitation candles, scales and toys. As well as products themselves, button batteries are often in accessories, particularly remote control devices.

New batteries packs will also be subject to Australian requirements.

Implementation

All product importers will need to turn their attention to this without delay. Retailers too should push their suppliers to understand and take action to ensure compliance.

Importers need to act now:

  • Run an audit on whether button batteries are used to operate any of their products
  • Where possible, choose products with an alternative form of power, perhaps a AAA battery
  • Assess which products may require some redesign
  • If not, only order products that meet the new standards
Association product safety

If a product is one of those that need the full 18 months, then it will be necessary to make changes now. All other products should be made compliant as soon as it’s possible to do so. The sooner a product complies, the less chance it will be a risk to young children.

The ACCC and fellow regulators will be delivering compliance guidance. Industry associations have a key role to play in helping members implement the standards. I know that the Australian Toy Association, Australasian Promotional Products Association, Infant and Nursery Product Alliance, Consumer Electronics Association and National Retail Association will be swinging into action. These groups have been proactively involved in button battery safety to date.

All other associations whose members sell batteries and button battery-powered goods must also step up to ensure awareness and promote compliance. These include those in the automotive aftermarket, gift and homewares and convenience stores sectors.

Details

Under the new mandatory safety and information standards, new batteries, sold mostly in blister packs, have new requirements for child-resistant packaging and labelling.

Products must have secure battery compartments to prevent children from gaining access to the batteries.

Button battery testing

Manufacturers must also undertake compliance testing to demonstrate batteries are secure and place additional warnings and emergency advice on packaging and instructions.

As the vast majority of button battery powered products are made overseas, importers will need to convey clear instructions to their suppliers.

Some electrical products and their remote control accessories are covered by existing electrical regulations. The new mandatory ACL product standards have made some allowances for existing regulations.

Application

Australia has taken the lead as the first jurisdiction to introduce regulations. Some aspects of the new standards work on a ‘principles-based’ approach, which sets out safety principles that need to be met rather than outlining detailed specifications. This is partly to accommodate the variety of product types involved.

I’m conscious that a principles-based approach will need to be applied with some caution. Clarity on what’s required is vital, especially given the variety of products to be included in the mandatory standard.

More information is available on the ACCC’s Product Safety Australia website for all businesses to understand their obligations. If in doubt, suppliers should consult their test providers and report any implementation problems to the ACCC or industry association. I have written many times in the past and will be blogging on this topic as implementation proceeds, so please visit productsafetysolutions.com.au and sign up for updates.