Australia’s product safety system failing our children, study finds
“What we really need to do is move towards a more prevention-based model, stopping the unsafe products from getting on the shelves in the first place.”
The key to that, Dr Niven said, was the introduction of a general safety provision in Australian law that would make it illegal for suppliers to sell products that had not met safety regulations.
A number of jurisdictions, including the UK and EU, have such a law but Australia does not, and Dr Niven said many people might be surprised to learn that products they buy in stores may not actually meet safety requirements.
“That is a misconception that a lot of people have, that we have some sort of government vetting,” she said.
“We do have safety standards, and the majority of those are for children’s products, but they really don’t cover everything, so when buying products, people need to make sure what they’re buying is safe.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been pushing for a general safety provision to be introduced, but it is yet to be implemented at a federal government level.
The ACCC has previously revealed that about half the recalled products – a total of about 1.7 million items – remain in people’s homes, exposing almost one in four households to potential hazards.
Of particular concern is the fact that a large number of the recalls during the study period were for products aimed at children, especially babies and toddlers.
“One of the surprising things that came out of the research was the large number of products on our market that don’t comply with the mandatory safety scheme, for example cots,” Dr Niven said.
“Our regulators had to identify that they don’t comply and recall them off the market. And it wasn’t just cots, it was things like bean bags, projectile toys, and lots of toys for children under three.”
A lot of the products were recalled, Dr Niven said, because they posed a choking hazard, with children easily able to access the button batteries that powered a significant number of them.
Her research found that in 401 of Australian child-related safety recalls – 62 per cent of the total – the product failed to meet mandatory safety requirements, whereas in the US, 23 per cent had failed to comply over the same period.
The US had also taken specific measures, such as banning drawstrings on clothing for children under 12, after a number of incidents in which the strings got caught on playground equipment or even in the doors of moving vehicles.
Australia has not banned drawstrings in clothing for children under 12.
“Different products have different safety issues,” Dr Niven said. “It’s hard to put laws in place to cover things across the board, but one thing that would is a general safety provision that could get suppliers to do their part to make sure products are safe.”
Dr Niven’s research has been published in the journal BMJ Injury Prevention.
Stuart Layt covers health, science and technology for the Brisbane Times. He was formerly the Queensland political reporter for AAP.