In this, our 60th anniversary year, it's fitting that we devote an issue of CHOICE to product safety, because it has been a constant theme in our work across the decades.
This is obvious when you walk around the CHOICE testing labs. For many years we had a Bowin gas heater on display in our boardroom as a symbol of this work. In 1992, we revealed that this particular model had turned into a flamethrower in the homes of many Australians because the gas hose could easily be knocked out of its fittings. After we drew attention to the issue, the heater was recalled, saving people from the risk of injury or house fire. Bowin tried to sue CHOICE but failed miserably.
In the early 2000s, several children tragically died as a result of strollers rolling away from their parents in dangerous circumstances. CHOICE's advocacy on the issue helped lead to a mandatory standard, requiring all strollers sold in Australia to have a tether strap and parking brake, to prevent this happening to other children.
While we still find unsafe products, many have been removed from the market because of our work
In recent years, we've revealed that some car manufacturers were failing to recall dangerous Takata airbags; that Thermomix was denying that one of its appliances was causing serious injuries; and that Samsung was not doing enough to remove incendiary washing machines from people's homes. Each of these revelations led to action by regulators and an acknowledgement by the businesses that they needed to do better.
Day to day, we continue to find safety problems, especially when testing products made for children. Sadly, we don't always get the response we'd expect. The first reaction of many businesses is, like Bowin heaters, to threaten legal action if we continue to warn consumers.
You can choose to get angry about this – as I sometimes do – or you can see the positive side. The reality is that while we still find unsafe products, many more have been removed from the market because of our work. You can't quantify the number of people who have avoided being injured by products that have been removed from the market due to our efforts, but it must be enormous.
Nobody else in Australia can play this role. Governments don't systematically test products for safety defects, and most people assume that products sold in Australia are safe. It requires an independent body with safety expertise to identify where that's not the case.
As a CHOICE member, you help to make this possible. As you read this issue, you may be dismayed about the problems we still find, but you should also take pride in the fact that you're helping to make Australia safer for other consumers.