General Product Safety - Australia
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is responsible for product safety policy at the executive level of government. This policy is then used by State and Territory governments to enact their own policy. Consumer Law written into the Competition and Consumer Act is enacted by the Federal, State and Territory Regulators.
The ACCC employs three integrated strategies to direct the ACCC’s resources so as to have the most impact on product safety risks. These are identification, prioritisation and management.
The ACCC is also responsible under the Australian Consumer Law for administering voluntary recall notices and making recommendations to the Commonwealth Minister to:
- publish a safety warning notice that a particular product is under investigation or warning of possible risks of a product
- make an information standard requiring particular information to be supplied with the product
- make a safety standard setting out requirements for the product
- make an interim or permanent ban on the product
SOME SPECIFIC AREAS OF PRODUCT SAFETY
REGULATORS & LEGISLATION
There are numerous federal and state regulators. Finding the applicable one is often difficult but the common thread is usually the product type. The risk models and the legislation are written around the product type. For example: electrical products, baby products or building materials. The higher the risk the higher the level of demonstrated compliance is required. This can be as low as a simple declaration of conformity with no supporting evidence to full testing in accredited laboratories with third party witnessing of the testing and manufacturing process.
There are literally 100,000s of standards written by a variety of standards organization throughout the world. They are written by committees that include regulators, industry and consumer groups. They only become mandatory when written into legislation. Sometimes the legislation is general in the application of standards and may say applicable or base on or give a basic standard or say “Australian” standards for example. In this case the supplier has several options of demonstrating how they mitigate the risks identified in the legislation. In general the legislations say the products must be inherently safe and may say that unintentional misuse cannot cause harm or destroy property.
These are set out in the federal legislative notices and State and Territory legislation and guidelines. There are usually two parts, an administrative part and a technical part. The technical part is usually focused on compliance with mandated standards. The mandated standards are listed in the legislation and/or the supporting notices. Often the scope of the standard is modified by the legislation and/or notices. These are sometimes called defining articles.
Groupings and families of products
Many products are based on the same materials and components and differ cosmetically. Although in some case different colour and the chemical associated with this colour must be tested. Often it is possible to find a representative model or models of the entire family of products. This can be done if the product is made from the same materials, is the most fully-functioned model. For electrical goods it would be the highest power, most functions on the control or options for inputs and outputs.
In general this must include a clear identification of the product by brand, model number and sometimes batch and serial number.
Labelling of the product with the essential information set out in the mandated standards and legislation is paramount in importance.
Sometimes each state and territory have their own labelling requirements and installation requirements that must be given in the manual or a separate sheet. Often a Declaration of Conformity is required to be filled out by the supplier and signed by their management. More and more regulators are requiring suppliers to make declarations on the regulator’s website databases and upload compliance documents. The technical file usually contains copies of the test reports and other supporting technical information like schematics and parts lists.
Suppliers of products that are subject to mandatory standards are encouraged to use specialist laboratories to conduct testing of those products to ensure they comply with the mandatory standard.
Australian test laboratories hold a range of accreditations for testing to standards. In general labs are not accredited for all the tests they conduct and it is an important question when dealing with them to ask if they are accredited for the tests they are performing. Accreditation is awarded to the labs by third party certifiers such as NATA, A2LA and DAR.
The third party accreditation organizations hold Mutual Recognition Agreements with their peers in other countries so as to recognize one another’s testing. At the government level MRAs are made to recognize the assessment and approval processes of one another’s designated accreditation organizations for certain products and regulation processes. Usually these are for high risk products like vehicles, medical and pharmaceutical.
When testing to cover the mandatory standards set out in the legislation, a co-ordinated approach undertaken by one testing organization is recommended. The lab will take the regulatory requirements and come up with the test plan listing the standards to be applied to meet the regulatory requirements.
Such a test program is often costly and time consuming. Opinion should be sort from potential insurers for each market you wish to sell into. Many insurers may only accept third party approvals such as UL, Intertek or SGS in addition to the compulsory regulators marks.
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