Calls for product safety reporting to be made public

How safe are your products? CHOICE has submitted a freedom of information request to find out.

Confidentiality clauses protecting businesses from sharing incident reports are being called into question following a freedom of information filing to the industry regulator.

Businesses have two days to file an incident report with the ACCC once they've been informed a product has made someone sick, injured them or contributed to their death. 

These reports are kept private in Australia, but a nationally representative survey commissioned by CHOICE reveals 88% of people would like to see them made public.

CHOICE has now lodged a freedom of information request asking the federal government to release more than 10,000 mandatory incident reports made since 2011. 

The current system lacks regulatory oversight as victims can't tell if a business has filed a report with the ACCC.

"Our current product safety system lacks transparency and is failing Australian consumers," says Sarah Agar, manager of consumer policy at CHOICE.

"Making mandatory product safety reports public will encourage business to take steps to make sure their products are safe before they hit the market."

Lifting the confidentiality clause could be a disincentive to businesses filing reports to the ACCC, claims Consumer Affairs Australia and New Zealand, but businesses failing to report incidents is already a problem, even with the confidentiality clause in place.

Last year supermarket giant Woolworths failed to report eight faulty products. One of these led to a child receiving chemical burns, the ACCC revealed, but no other information pertaining to the incidents was made available.

Recalls are not uncommon with toys. The Australian Toy Association (ATA) provided a business perspective in the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) review interim report, noting the issue of privacy would need to be addressed.

"The data would need to [respect] the confidentiality of the parties making [the] report," it states. 

However, its submission to the report showed support for the idea. "A robust set of data on injuries associated with consumer products would be helpful in various risk management activities such as Standards development and product selection."

The confidentiality clause was an addition made without consultation, says Dr Luke Nottage, a law professor at the University of Sydney.

"It wasn't even in the original draft ACL bill. It was added as an extra section at the last minute without consultation."

Australia should adopt a transparent system, says Nottage, such as those used by Canada, Japan or the European Union.

Woolworths declined to comment on the issue when contacted by CHOICE.