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Product safety – it’s your business

  • Opinion
  • May 15, 2018
Product safety – it’s your business

This might sound strange coming from a regulator but I very much appreciate the pressures facing businesses with regard to legal compliance – particularly so for the smaller businesses and the ‘one person’ operations. As well as tax issues, there are occupational health and safety matters to deal with and that’s on top of the maintenance of premises, hiring of staff and keeping the business viable and profitable, and all the other things involved in running a business.

So against this backdrop, trying to promote a new product safety compliance initiative feels pretty daunting. Nonetheless I would like to take a few moments of your time with this article to promote a resource that Trading Standards (which is an operational unit within MBIE - the Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment) has developed to help business safely deal with the sale and supply of products.

So firstly, in regard to legal obligation, and sorry to descend into bureaucrat speak, but under the provisions of the Fair Trading Act, the Consumer Guarantees Act and other associated legislation it is essentially illegal to supply unsafe goods in New Zealand. For certain types of products there are some specific regulations and other legal instruments that set out strict legal requirements around product safety and these are enforced by a number of Government agencies.

The legal onus is squarely on business to carry out the necessary due diligence and be aware of, and comply with, any legal provisions that apply to goods they sell. In my experience as a regulator over several decades, no business I have encountered wants to supply an unsafe consumer product - it’s simply not a great business model! So it’s unfortunate if an unsafe product reaches the marketplace or is sold to consumers but the phrase ‘ignorance of the law is no defence’ is true in this instance.

And therein lies an issue. There are thousands of different consumer products on the market and almost daily we see new products being launched. How does a business ensure their products are safe, especially if there are no regulations to help provide some guidance? Of course not all products carry significant safety risk. So what to do? Well, big business can look at applying some resources to the issue and many larger organisations have specialist people or teams that have been tasked to ensure the products they supply are legally compliant and safe.

But for smaller businesses, in part for the reasons outlined at the start of this piece, the task can be harder. It was out of this that MBIE embarked on an initiative to adopt an international standard – ISO 10377 – as a New Zealand standard. And so ‘NZS ISO 10377:2017 Consumer Product Safety – Guidelines for Suppliers’ came into being in late 2017. 

ISO 10377 is an internationally recognised guidance standard that provides high level generic guidance that can be applied to all goods. It covers the whole supply chain from product design and manufacture through to transportation and sales. For each stage it advises on the various elements that can apply and need to be thought about to ensure the safety of the end product.

Adopting ISO 10377 for New Zealand involved Standards NZ setting up a stakeholder standards committee. This committee undertook a line by line review of ISO 10377 to ensure it was appropriate to the needs and issues in New Zealand. Having undertaken the review, the standard was endorsed in November 2017 and since then work has been underway to develop collateral advisory material to help raise awareness and support its uptake by businesses. For more background on this you can visit the Trading Standards website at mbie.govt.nz.

In recognition that for small businesses in particular, the cost of buying a standard can be off putting, MBIE has entered into an agreement with Standards NZ to provide free access to NZS ISO 10377:2017 and you can get a copy via consumerprotection.govt.nz.

MBIE trading standards team leader Martin Rushton

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