If you're part of the supply chain, you'd be used to the current way of handling product safety incidents which is mostly left in the hands of suppliers to manage and investigate. That's all about to change once the new Australian Consumer Law comes into effect on 1 January 2011 and we think suppliers and others in the supply chain aren't fully prepared yet.

The biggest change is the new notification requirement for suppliers, where consumer goods have caused or may have caused death or serious injury or illness. This creates a raft of practical problems for anyone in the supply chain.

First, there is the really short time for reporting. All participants in the supply chain who become aware of the injury, illness or death - such as retailers, distributors, importers or manufacturers - will have only two days from becoming aware of a death or serious illness or injury to report it.

Secondly, we think that this short time-frame will lead to a large range of incidents being reported. That's because it includes cases where the product only may have been the cause, so suppliers will have to deal with and notify a wide range of product safety incidents. And even if you think a report is fraudulent, you will still have to report it as you won't have time to investigate it and still meet the two-day deadline.

Thirdly, of course, there's the problem of working out what needs to be reported. Only serious injuries or illness need to be reported - that is, something acute that needs a doctor or nurse. That means you'll have to dig into the nature of the injury or illness and the treatment and get that all within two days. And it means slow-burn injuries like lead poisoning aren't covered. However, all deaths still need to be reported so lead poisoning will not be reportable unless it resulted in death.

A defect that causes property damage, say an electrical device that starts a fire, by itself doesn't need to be reported, even if it's possible that it could also injure a person in the future. Product tampering doesn't need to be reported either until, of course, you learn someone has been injured and you also discover that they saw a doctor, and not, say, a pharmacist.

If you're part of a supply chain you really need to look at three things.

  • First, look at your internal reporting processes. How quickly will reports of injury or death reach the right level and be reported within two days? How well do those on the front line understand what does and doesn't need to be escalated? Secondly, what sort of technical expertise do you have, internal or external, to conduct a thorough investigation into product safety incidents?
  • Finally, how easily can you find any relevant test reports such as those demonstrating compliance with the mandatory standards? You should be able to find them quickly if the ACCC asks for them. If you can't reassure the ACCC that your product is safe, then you might end up doing an unnecessary recall.