Due to number of deaths and injuries.

The ACCC believes there should be a law prohibiting the sale of unsafe goods with new data estimating the annual cost of injury and death caused by unsafe consumer products to be at least $5 billion, possibly more.

Speaking at the National Consumer Congress in Melbourne, ACCC chair Rod Sims said excluding motor vehicle accidents, there are around 780 deaths and around 52,000 injuries a year from consumer products in Australian homes. Examples of harm include electrocution from faulty appliances, burns from ignited flammable clothing and choking on children’s toys.

Product safety priorities for 2019 include a continuation of the ACCC’s work on button battery safety and products sold online as well as examining potential consumer safety hazards associated with interconnected and smart devices.

“Our challenge in product safety is to anticipate these future risks before they arise and make sure the regulatory framework is fit for purpose,” Sims said.

There is also a need for the government to adopt a General Safety Provision obliging companies to take reasonable steps to avoid supplying unsafe goods. “For consumers, a General Safety Provision will give greater confidence that the goods they buy are safe. And for business, it will create a level playing field so those firms who deliberately supply cheap but unsafe products do not derive a financial benefit,” he said.

Consumer group Choice also called for an overhaul of product safety laws in the wake of recent tests which found manufacturers and retailers were ignoring the safety risks posed by button battery powered items.

According to head of policy, Sarah Agar, 10 out of 17 button battery-powered household items failed Choice safety tests with potentially deadly batteries easily accessible. While toys for children under three year of age are legally required to have secure battery compartments, many everyday household items, such as kitchen scales and a remote control did not.

“There is a voluntary code that requires manufacturers to make the batteries secure, but our test results show it is being ignored by some major brands sold in retail outlets like Priceline, Dymocks, David Jones and JB Hi-Fi. Self-regulation is failing.”

Agar said Australian product safety laws are reactive: “When tragedy occurs, businesses might take action by ordering a recall, and individual people injured by products can seek individual remedies. But that leaves many dangerous products on the shelves until someone else is hurt.

“We believe the Australian Government should make it illegal to sell unsafe products, which would see companies face large fines for flooding the Australian market with unsafe junk and would go a long way to curbing the risks associated with unsecured button batteries and other inherently unsafe products.”