Everyone in the supply chain – from the product designer, manufacturer, importer, retailer and, to some extent, the consumer – has some responsibility for product safety. This page gives advice about how to make sure the products you are supplying or using are safe.
On this page:
Product design and manufacture
Safety should be taken into account right at the start when you develop a product for market. If your product develops safety issues or injures someone, you may be liable for costly remedies or face potentially damaging publicity or legal action.
If you supply products to overseas markets, you should seek independent legal advice. A compliance or safety issue which occurs overseas may attract much stricter penalties than in New Zealand.
Supplying safe products
If you supply a product, you should be aware of any legal requirements relating to that product, whether you’re importing, wholesaling or retailing it.
Under the Fair Trading Act, the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs can create mandatory safety requirements, ban any product which will or may cause harm, or order a compulsory recall.
You may be liable for a substantial fine under this Act if you supply any products that don’t comply with mandatory standards, or that are subject to an Unsafe Goods Notice (product ban). Mandatory standards and Unsafe Goods Notices are enforced by the Commerce Commission.
Useful links on our website:
All products sold in New Zealand must be safe
Even if your product is unregulated, you still have to consider its safety. There is a general requirement under the Consumer Guarantees Act that all products sold in New Zealand must be safe. The best way of ensuring this is to have the product tested to the appropriate safety standard by a lab which is accredited to carry out that test (see Testing and accreditation below). If you supply an unsafe product, consumers may be entitled to a refund and you may have to recall the product.
Read more about the Consumer Guarantees Act.
Products used by infants and children
Take particular care with products to be used by infants and children as they cannot identify hazards and rely on others to keep them safe. Make sure you provide information with the product that clearly states the age range it is designed for.
Some products have specific legal requirements
Some products, such as electrical goods or food products, must comply with specific legal requirements. If you supply these products, contact the appropriate regulatory authority (for example, Energy Safety(external link) or Food Safety(external link)) to find out what is required.
Warning markings on children’s products
There is a mandatory requirement that any toy for children under 36 months old (3 years) must not present a choking hazard.
Many toys carry a warning that the toy contains small parts and/or is not suitable for children under 3 years old. Some toys, particularly cheaper ones, carry this warning when they are clearly intended to be used by infants of this age.
This disclaimer offers no legal protection if the toy still contains small parts and could be suitable for, or intended for use by children under three years old. The toy must still comply with the mandatory requirement.
Supply chain liability
Your business is your responsibility. You cannot rely on your own supplier as if an injury occurs, you may also be liable.
Regulations can change and new ones can come into force. Make sure you keep up to date with your obligations as a supplier and regularly monitor any developments which may affect you. You may find it useful to join an industry organisation like the New Zealand Retailers Association to keep updated on issues that are relevant to your business.
Visit the New Zealand Retailers Association website.(external link)
You also need to be able to demonstrate that you have taken steps to satisfy yourself that your products are safe. Get independent legal advice from a specialist commercial lawyer, who can advise you on your legal obligations.
The New Zealand Law Society can help you to find a lawyer.(external link)
If a product you have supplied has caused an injury, or a near miss, or if customer reports that it is unsafe, you must take appropriate action to prevent further injuries. Contact Trading Standards for advice.
Make sure your company has systems in place to identify potential product safety issues. For example, if a customer calls to complain about an injury or near miss relating to a product, try to find out whether the product has failed or been used in an unexpected way. Don’t just handle the call as a complaint under the Consumer Guarantees Act. Investigate incidents thoroughly to establish if there is anything which may cause further incidents or injuries and take appropriate action.
Suppliers need to take into account ‘reasonably foreseeable misuse’. For example, a push-along toy is not designed to be chewed by an infant. However, it may be used in that way so must not release small parts or present any toxic hazard when chewed.
Having a system in place will show due diligence on your part and may provide some defence if things go wrong.
See ISO 10377:2013 Consumer product safety – Guidelines for suppliers(external link). This standard sets out how to establish robust procedures around safe supply.
Many products are covered by voluntary safety standards, which set out minimum requirements for design features and performance requirements.
Because they are written to cover existing products, safety standards always lag behind product development. Standards may not cover a new product’s latest designs or features. However, they will highlight particular hazards that the product may have and state the measures needed to minimise them.
Stating your product conforms with a recognised safety standard can be an excellent marketing tool to assure your customers that your products are safe.
Standards to use
Joint Australia / New Zealand (AS/NZS) safety standards apply to many products. Some of these are mandatory requirements and products must comply by law.
See Standards New Zealand(external link) for information about the standards that may apply to your product. You can search by the:
Joint AS/NZS standards are preferable, but if none of these standards apply, use international (ISO) or European (EN) standards. Ask Standards New Zealand if you need help.
Product safety for infants and young children
Certain principles apply to all products intended to be used by infants and children. For example, these products should not have any hazards which could suffocate, strangle, or choke a child, or cause them to fall. The products also shouldn’t have any sharp edges or points.
These two handbooks may be helpful:
A guide is also available free on the ACC website(external link).
Testing and accreditation
To comply with a safety standard, a product must pass all the tests specified in the standard. Testing must be done by a laboratory that is accredited by an internationally recognised accreditation body to carry out the testing to the specific standard. This ensures that:
- testing is carried out to the same specification each time
- results are reliable, and
- the certificate will be accepted by regulators.
The International Accreditation Forum(external link) (IAF) website lists the accreditation bodies in other countries and the logos to look for.
Certificates provided by laboratories who are not accredited to test to a standard, or those which do not cover all the applicable tests in the standard, are not acceptable as evidence of compliance and are a waste of money.
If your supplier cannot provide you with a full certificate of compliance, you can have a sample tested by an accredited laboratory.
Read The ILAC Mutual Recognition Arrangement publication(external link) on the ILAC website for more information about international accreditation.
Checking that a certificate of compliance is valid
If your supplier provides a certificate of compliance, check it carefully. A single page document is not a valid test certificate.
A valid certificate must include the following:
- The specific make and model of that particular product (not a range of products).
- A photo which matches the product.
- A complete list of all the clauses in the standard should be included, with a pass mark next to all that apply to the product. If specified tests were carried out at the request of the supplier, the certificate does not indicate compliance.
The logo of an internationally recognised accreditation body. For example, Chinese laboratories are accredited by China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment (CNAS) and certificates for testing to standards under their scope of accreditation carry the CNAS logo:
- You can often search an accreditation body's website to find out whether a laboratory that has issued a certificate is accredited for that test, and if so, who was the authorised signatory.
Certificates may be counterfeit. Some laboratories offer a search facility on their website where you can enter the certificate number and see the genuine one. Check carefully for:
- signatures and stamps or other markings which are slightly misplaced
- poor quality printing
- different product or standard details on the certificate.
If this is not possible, contact the laboratory directly and ask if your certificate is genuine.
Use IANZ's directory search(external link) to find an accredited laboratory. IANZ may also be able to help you check the authenticity of a certificate. They may charge a fee for this service. Tests carried out by an accredited laboratory in New Zealand should carry the IANZ logo:
Buying and using products
Although most standards are voluntary, they are still the best way of ensuring that safety has been considered when the products were made. As a consumer, you can encourage retailers to make sure that they sell safe goods by demanding goods that comply with safety standards.
When buying and using goods, you have a responsibility to choose products that:
- are age appropriate
- are appropriate for the intended use, and
- don’t have any obvious hazards.
However, not all hazards are clearly visible or obvious. Some hazards, such as chemical content, can only be identified by rigorous laboratory testing. Other hazards may only become an issue under certain circumstances.
Report unsafe products
If you or your child is injured while using a product, or you are worried about its safety, contact the supplier so that they can take the appropriate action. Don’t be put off if they say you have not used or maintained the product properly – unless you really were at fault.
- Commerce Commission(external link) to report any serious concerns about products covered by a mandatory standard
- Trading Standards to report safety concerns about other products – letting us know may help prevent further injuries. Phone us on 0508 627 774.