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Product safety: new ‘proactive’ law needed

The quickly growing international on-line market combined with the rapid growth of cheaply made products is posing some serious risks for the entertainment industry.  Although you could have a really hard job finding products that weren’t substantially manufactured in Asia, the level of quality control can be vastly different between manufacturers’ or even batches of ‘look-alike’ products coming out of the same plant.

Choice’s head of policy and campaigns, Sarah Agar, blames Australia’s “reactive” consumer law. Instead of putting safety first, “our product safety system is largely reactive, with businesses taking action after products are found to be unsafe, usually after sale”, she said.  “This approach is failing us all. When you buy a product, you should be able to trust that it’s safe and won’t harm you.”  The consumer group is pushing for the federal government to introduce a straightforward new law, similar to laws currently in place in Britain and Canada, that would require businesses to ensure the product they sell are safe.
A new product safety law would also need to be “coupled with strong penalties for breach, to ensure that businesses have enough incentive to follow the law”, Ms Agar said.

The big concern is that although we have a raft of Australian Standards, available at a ridiculous cost but that is a different discussion, it is not illegal to supply unsafe products that don’t meet the Australian Standards.
“Many consumers are surprised to learn that it is not illegal to supply unsafe products in Australia, unlike [the situation] in the UK, EU, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore and Brazil,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a Sydney Morning Herald article recently.   Under the current regime, “unsafe goods are only identified when regulators test goods in the market, or unfortunately, after consumers have suffered injuries or deaths. A general safety provision would mean that suppliers are legally obliged to ensure goods are safe before they supply them, or risk significant penalties.”

In August last year, state consumer affairs ministers supported the Commonwealth conducting a regulatory impact assessment of such a general safety provision under Australian Consumer Law. That assessment process is ongoing.

What it means for our industry is that we can’t be sure that the equipment we buy, either directly from overseas or through Australian distributors is completely safe and ‘fit for purpose’. And this applies to everything we use, electrical equipment for lighting, audio or video production, trussing and staging modules, chainmotors even crowd barriers imported without proper test reports and certification.

What is complicating matters is that the information and certification that ought to be provided with equipment is extremely difficult to determine.  The layers of legislation, regulation and differences between States and Territories make it very complicated and time consuming to find out what is required.

Research into these matters is being done and will be published in CX Magazine in coming months.  Check regularly about updates and for now, check and test as best you can, but don’t assume that everything you use is 100% meeting Australian Standards.


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