Product testing

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The video below is from an ACCC webinar on the topic of product testing for suppliers in the consumer market.

Gail Greatorex, presents the talk on product safety testing in her then role as the ACCC’s Director of Strategic Compliance. This post provides key points from the transcript.

The 90 minute video covers the How, Why and What of testing for product safety. It includes details on the product safety and other consumer protection provisions, detailed coverage of product testing, and the last half hour provides a Q&A panel session.

Although the webinar was conducted a few years ago, it is just as relevant in today’s market.

The webinar covers:

  • How do you know the goods you sell are safe
  • Why testing is required
  • Testing regimes
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • How to read product testing results
  • How to tell whether a product test report is fake
  • Testing tips and guidance

Below is a brief extract from the webinar transcript (with minor edits)

Who’s responsible

Manufacturers need to be very familiar with the role that testing can play – from testing the prototypes through design, production phases and again post-market review.

Manufacturers should understand the fundamentals of testing: how to choose a lab; how to commission testing; how to read a test report.

Further down the supply chain, an effective product safety and compliance system is just as important.

Such a system will adopt a business policy that requires suppliers to hold evidence that the goods they supply meet relevant standards or have declarations that they do so. Quite often this comes down to the contracts that are signed between members of the supply chain.

When to test

To help ensure safety, it’s important for suppliers to test products at various stages of development and distribution.

Design stage – So you would test at the initial design stage, hopefully designing safety into a product, thinking through how it’s going to be used, who is going to be using it, what environment it’s going to be used in.

For example, with exercise bikes, before we brought the standard in, there were moving parts and little kids were poking their fingers into the spokes and with treadmills, we’re finding that, again, little kids/toddlers fascinated with the movement are touching the treadmill while it’s in motion and getting friction burns. So, these are things you just need to stop and think about the environment in which your product will be operating.

Beyond design – Having designed the product as safely as you possibly can, you then need to manage safety within production processes, your design specifications, your material specs and so forth, and to test at the end of production to make sure that the product still meets the prototype test. And then there’s ongoing testing as well.

What to test

Testing for compliance with mandatory standards and bans is a bit of a trap for people who are not familiar.

In a lot of cases the test company can assist you to understand what needs to be tested, but you need to test your products to the standard as mandated in the Consumer Protection Notice or Regulation.

It’s not often that there is absolute equivalency between an Australian requirement and an overseas standard but indeed, you need to check with your testing company and whoever is advising you on compliance on the technical aspects of your product.

Suppliers must also be confident that the goods can do what they say they can. You must not exaggerate claims.

How to choose a lab

Accreditation addresses the testing expertise of a laboratory against the specified standards. For example, a lab maybe accredited to perform tests to the Australian standard for bunk beds or the Australian standard for bicycles, and you can then go to that laboratory with confidence if you want to have your bunk bed or bicycle tested.

To achieve accreditation, labs undergo rigorous audit checks to comply with a range of criteria.

Accreditation bodies such as the National Association of Testing Authorities, and NATA’s international counterparts provide strict independent assessments of an accreditation for competence in testing against specific safety standards.

Certification is another story. As with other businesses and products, you can get your company certified to say you’ve implemented a good management system as with the ISO9000 series. It’s a good thing but it’s not the same (as accreditation).

Test reports

You should always carefully check test reports even when they’re from a reliable test company that you’ve been using for a long time, it’s accredited, whatever – check them anyway.

This applies when you’re the supplier who’s commissioned the testing and also if you’re receiving the test report from your supplier if you’re further down the supply chain.

Just having a report on your files does not equal compliance. You need to check the reports and you need to have your quality assurance program in place.

There is always talk of suppliers submitting a sample and to various labs until they get a “pass” result. If that happens, then the chances of getting an inconsistent report the next time it’s tested would probably be increased.

Occasionally, also there is some interpretation differences, so it’s important to have an open dialogue with your tester and any other parties.

Role of testers in product safety

Test companies often see products in the development stages before their official release to the market.

Test personnel have an understanding of product performance, design and compliance. Their advice can be invaluable in helping suppliers to consistently achieve safety and compliance.

Testers can help with effective product design and quality assurance systems. They can assist clients in understanding the standards and the relevant laws and even the agencies that administer them.

 

A full copy of the webinar transcript is available on request via our contact form

This webinar was presented in June 2011 to launch the ACCC’s publication Product Safety – A Guide to Testing, available (with minor update) on the Product Safety Australia website