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Can the government tell me how to make my products? . . . or what to sell?

Import crate with question mark

The Maze, Safety Pin icons

“We will decide what products are sold in this country and the manner in which they are sold . . . “

Well, not usually, but some products do need to meet safety standards before they can be sold.

In this blog, I explain how your business can be affected by consumer product regulation and what you can do to comply.

Am I affected?

How do you know if your products have to meet regulations?

If you supply products that are subject to specialist schemes such as cars, electrical goods, food and medicines, these are subject to specific legislation managed by specific government agencies.

But if you’re supplying any of the myriad of other goods we use in our daily lives, they may be regulated under the Australian Consumer Law.

No matter where you sit in the supply chain – importer, manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer or hirer – you are responsible for knowing which products are covered and making sure they comply.

The government does not check these products before they’re sold.

It’s up to suppliers to make sure all products comply.

Types of product regulations – Mandatory Standards and Bans

Products can have regulations applied if they pose a particular hazard. The Australian Consumer Law allows the government to declare mandatory standards, which set out certain requirements for the product.

General consumer products covered by mandatory standards and bans include a diverse range of goods, such as babies’ dummies, bean bags and car jacks.

The Australian Consumer Law also allows the government to ban products outright if they are deemed too dangerous.

Current bans include a curious mix of weird and wonderful products, such as tongue studs that attach only by suction, hacky-sacks designed to be set alight and toy-like novelty cigarette lighters – very attractive to kids.

While the government doesn’t inspect products before they go on sale, they do survey the market – in stores and online.

So, as suppliers you need to have a compliance system in place.

So, how do I know what’s covered and how to comply?

The Product Safety Australia website is the main reference for consumer product safety regulation.

On that site, you can check the list of products covered by mandatory standards and bans. You can also subscribe to alerts for when new products are regulated.

In many cases it’s easy to see if your products are covered. If you sell, say, bicycles it is clear that the mandatory standard for pedal bicycles will apply to the products you sell.

With some other products you have to look a bit harder to check if the regulations apply. If you sell, for example:

  • Toys for young children – they may be covered by the standard prohibiting small parts (choking hazards) for children under 3 years old – but what toys are for over and under 3s?
  • Children’s products – the ban on children’s plastic items containing DEHP (a chemical plastic softener) could cover products in your range
  • Candles – the ban on more than 0.06% lead in wicks is one to watch out for

Where to find out

To understand what products are covered by a mandatory standard or ban, you need to check the wording in the regulatory document.

The Product Safety Australia website provides links to the relevant documents and guidance for suppliers.

If you’re still unsure after reading the documents, you can seek some professional advice. Test companies, business associations and legal advisors all provide advice on understanding and interpreting product safety specifications.

And the Product Safety Solutions website provides guidance and help.

Toys     plastic cups and plates