ACCC 2022 In Review | Product safety
In 2022, the ACCC continued to focus on several key areas, including button battery safety, quad bikes, toppling furniture and product safety for babies and young children. In particular, the ACCC was heavily focused on issues concerning young children – naming button battery safety as a key enforcement priority throughout 2022 and 2023. In keeping with this statement, mid-last year, the ACCC introduced a world-first mandatory safety and information standards for button and coin batteries. Another significant achievement for the ACCC last year was the introduction of the ‘Your First Steps’ website, which aims to help parents and carers to select safe products for their children.
We expect it will remain a priority of the ACCC to monitor online for products that are banned, non-compliant or unsafe as well as engaging with online marketplaces and ACL regulators to address online product safety issues where they arise. The ACCC will also take enforcement action for unsafe and non-compliant products online where appropriate.
Quad bikes – continued monitoring
The ACCC has continued to monitor quad bike safety given the inherent dangers and risks people face when precautions and proper handling practices are not followed. Since the national safety standard for quad bikes commenced in October 2021, 94% of quad bikes have been found by the ACCC to be compliant with the requirements (an increase from 84% compliance in 2021). This improvement appears to demonstrate that manufacturers and suppliers have been taking their safety obligations seriously and have collaborated with the ACCC to remediate any issues.
Throughout 2022, the ACCC gave warnings to companies in circumstances where it had determined there had been non-compliance with the safety standards. The most common occurrences of non-compliance were displaying quad bikes at the point of sale without age warning labels, rollover warnings, lateral roll stability tags or owner manuals.
Button batteries – new mandatory standards
In June 2022, the ACCC introduced new, world-first mandatory button battery safety and information standards. In announcing the standard, then-Deputy Chair Delia Rickard commented,
“These world-first standards are a critical step in helping prevent potentially life-threatening injuries to children.”
The new mandatory safety standards require:
- products to have secure battery compartments to prevent children from accessing the batteries
- button batteries must be supplied in child-resistant packaging
- products and batteries must have additional warnings and emergency advice on the batteries, the packaging the batteries come in and also on the instructions
- suppliers must ensure products have been compliance tested.
The ACCC has indicated that all levels of the supply chain for button batteries are required to comply with the mandatory safety standards and that serious penalties would apply if the ACCC found non-compliant or unsafe battery products. As button battery safety has been an ongoing priority for the ACCC, we can expect to see enforcement action for non-compliance with the safety standards, especially since the ACCC has been working with the business community to support businesses making the required changes to button battery products.
The penalties for corporations who breach the ACL by supplying consumer goods that fail to comply with the button battery standards are harsh and can be up to whichever is the greater of:
- three times the value of the benefit received, or
- 10% of annual turnover in the preceding 12 months (in situations where the benefit cannot be calculated).
Individuals who supply consumer goods that do not comply with the button battery standards can face a maximum financial penalty of $500,000. As at the time of publication, there hadn’t been any prosecutions under the new Mandatory Standards.
In 2022, the ACCC focused on addressing the risks caused by toppling furniture in Australia. There are no mandatory safety or information standards for toppling furniture, and it causes hundreds of injuries to Australians each year, especially to children under the age of five. In May 2022, the ACCC sought feedback from stakeholders about the way to reduce injuries caused by toppling furniture. The ACCC also published a consultation paper that outlined a range of proposed regulatory options for toppling furniture, which included consumer education, increasing the focus on wall-fitted anchoring for furniture and improving product design.
ACCC launches “Your First Steps” website
On 1 August 2022, the ACCC launched the Your First Steps website, where parents and carers can seek safety advice on how to protect their infant when playing, moving, changing, bathing and sleeping. The website also covers emerging product safety areas, such as soothing items, to help parents and carers know what to consider when choosing products in the first six months of a child’s life. It aims to allow parents to understand how to use and select products safely. The Your First Steps website has been well received by the Federal Government and other consumer groups including Choice.
Following the launch of Your First Steps, the ACCC published a consultation paper in August 2022 outlining a range of potential regulatory options designed to protect sleeping infants and babies, as well as prevent death and injury resulting from inclined sleep products. The consultation paper also considers the need to update mandatory safety standards for cots. Submissions for the ACCC’s consultation closed in September 2022 and there have been 21 public responses from a variety of areas, including government agencies, medical professionals and other child safety associations. The ACCC hasn’t indicated a date for a report following the submissions.
Key enforcement activity
The Federal Court has ordered Mercedes-Benz pay penalties of $12.5 million for statements made by it to consumers during the Takata air recall.
No doubt the ACCC will continue to focus on the various product safety priorities announced in June 2022, including issues relating to lithium-ion batteries and hazards caused by these batteries, toppling furniture, and inclined products that can be used for infants to sleep in. We also expect to see the implementation of new policy initiatives by the ACCC to improve the mandatory standards regulatory framework that was introduced in 2022. It is also likely that the ACCC will be focusing on product safety in the online space by expanding participation in the Australian Product Safety Pledge as well as online surveillance by the ACCC.
The ACCC will continue to focus on high-risk safety issues in products for young children, including dummies and dummy chains, sleep aids and toys for children under the age of three. We anticipate some enforcement action in the year ahead, in combination with education strategies and the ACCC working with suppliers to improve the recall effectiveness of products for young children. This follows the introduction of the Your First Steps website.
We can expect to see more action in this space following the introduction of the new laws relating to the mandatory safety and information standards for button batteries in mid-2022. The ACCC will be focusing on compliance with the new button battery standards by taking enforcement action to address non-compliance. We expect that the ACCC will also work with ACL regulators to conduct surveillance and monitor compliance with the new standards.
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