Last year I attended one of the rare product safety seminars held in Australia. At that event, participants were tasked with identifying ways product safety practitioners can work effectively in a competitive commercial environment. Contrary to the session leader’s expectations, the participants showed a positive attitude, and a constructive discussion was held.
But what struck me as I sat in on the discussions was just how complex and challenging the role of a product safety practitioner has become, and it has inspired me to write a white paper.
The white paper Consumer product safety in Australia: Challenges for practitioners and business managers is now available on this website.
Beyond traditional compliance challenges, the consumer market is experiencing unprecedented change. A number of trends are impacting the nature of consumer markets and the safety of products, including:
- increasingly price-driven competition
- increasingly globalised manufacturing and markets
- growing online retail and auction sales
- heightened focus on chemical safety in products
- more educated consumers with higher product expectations
- evolving product technology – more products incorporating electronics
- consumer and media communications via social channels – expectations of immediate responses to safety issues;
. . . and more
At present, those charged with ensuring the safety of all Australian consumers have to learn their craft on the job. And they are not well supported by corporate or community infrastructure.
The costs of product safety complexity
The paper outlines the current Australian system and explores the costs to consumers, to businesses, to the economy, to government and to the individuals whose job it is to implement and ensure the safety of products.
Levels of responsibility and stress experienced by product safety and compliance practitioners are unduly high. They face pressures that could be lessened with an effective support system. At present no real support system exists.
With this white paper, I’m aiming to shine a light into this sometimes hidden corner of the consumer product market.
The white paper explores some potential strategies for improvement, including the need for support within corporate culture and better infrastructure to support the system. A series of cost-effective measures for the business sector and government is outlined.
Key conclusions are that:
- recognising product safety as a discipline – with more training and an established qualification scheme – is vital for the future
- businesses and their representative associations have a key role to play in supporting product safety functions
- government agencies can tap into association networks to leverage better product safety
- creating a new federal product safety agency is a concept whose time has come
We need a paradigm shift
A paradigm shift is needed in the way consumer product safety is regarded – both within government and within business. It does not need to involve vast investment of funds. In many ways, it is about attitude and leadership.
Australia is soon to turn its mind to whether a general safety provision is suitable consumer safety policy. Should such a provision be introduced, it will serve to highlight the importance of product safety and compliance within the market. It would raise the profile of product safety but also place new demands on those responsible for safety and compliance. But even without such a new provision, the work of product safety practitioners needs attention.
(Notably, consumer group, CHOICE, has this week called for greater attention to product safety).
Reducing regulation is not the answer. Even if regulations were scaled back, the need for goods to be safe when placed on the market will not diminish. Absence of data should not prevent action being taken – in fact, it is the very lack of resources in the system that causes the data not to be gathered in the first place.
Establishing a dedicated consumer product safety agency is one major change that would make a substantial difference to this situation, as would the introduction of a general safety provision.
However, there are also many smaller changes that can be made now to address the challenges of product safety work in Australia.
I intend this paper to be a conversation starter. If you have an interest in product safety I hope you will use this opportunity to discuss the system with colleagues and other stakeholders.
Download the white paper
For the full story, download the white paper, which is available free of charge.
Comments are invited on this page. Are there other challenges not included in the paper? If you have anything to add to the discussion, please make a comment below.
See also a more recent blog article: Companies behaving badly? – Product safety, which examines a recent speech by the ACCC Chair and initiatives on companies’ social license to operate.