Finance Buyer beware: How to spot dangerous products this Christmas
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Buyer beware: How to spot dangerous products this Christmas

Christmas
You can keep yourself and your kids safe while shopping this Christmas. Photo: TND/Getty
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The consumer watchdog has partnered with online retailers to eradicate unsafe products this Christmas, but consumers should still watch out.

A report by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) on Friday shows over 96 per cent of ‘unsafe’ products on online marketplaces were removed within two business days after receiving take-down requests.

The companies referenced in the report all signed up to the Australian Product Safety Pledge. They include AliExpress, Amazon Australia, Catch.com.au, eBay Australia and MyDeal.com.au.

But it is still legal to sell unsafe products in Australia, and advocates are warning consumers to be on the look out for dodgy gifts this year.

Unsafe products cost Australians at least $5 billion in injuries and deaths each year, according to the ACCC.

With Christmas sales around the corner, here’s how to find out how to spot a dangerous product when shopping.

What is a dangerous product?

CHOICE editor Marg Rafferty said Australia, unlike other countries, doesn’t have a general product safety law that provides protections to consumers.

“For example, in the UK, [a] product has to be proven to be safe before it goes on sale,” Ms Rafferty said.

“Whereas here in Australia, we have quite a reactive system.

“So oftentimes things won’t be recalled until there’s an incident where someone is injured.”

An ACCC spokesperson said a product is consider unsafe due to a range of factors, including:

  • Manufacturing defects
  • Previously unexpected use patterns causing injuries
  • Being recalled
  • Not meeting the consumer guarantees requirement that products must be of acceptable quality, which includes being safe.

Some products, such as bicycles and aquatic toys, have to meet mandatory safety standards to be sold in Australia.

But Ms Rafferty said many of these products often fail to meet those standards when tested by CHOICE.

“The sheer volume of the failures, and the fact that almost all of them are still sold, show that we do need stricter regulation on safety standards here in Australia,” she said.

How to spot the danger

An ACCC spokesperson gave TND these top tips to spot an unsafe product when shopping the sales this Christmas (and everyday):

  • Become familiar with the list of banned products and safety standards on the Product Safety Australia website
  • Check if the product has been recalled on the ACCC’s website
  • Check online ratings and reviews for any safety issues other consumers have experienced
  • If shopping online, message the seller to get confirmation that the product meets all the mandatory safety requirements in Australia
  • If you can register your product with the manufacturer, do so. This means you can be notified immediately if there is a problem.

OECD data from 2017 shows children’s products , such as car restraints and toys, account for almost 40 per cent of online shopping-related product safety reports to the ACCC.

Ms Rafferty said when buying a product for your kids, avoid:

  • Choking hazards, including pieces that can easily break off from toys
  • Sharp points and rough surfaces
  • Products powered by button batteries, which can be easily swallowed and cause “terrible” internal burns, or death
  • Noisy products which could be harmful to your child’s hearing
  • Trap hazards, such as toy chests and boxes – if you do buy one, make sure it is lightweight, the lid is movable, and it has ventilation holes if it is big enough for your child to crawl inside.

People might also have unsafe or recalled products in their homes, said Ms Rafferty, who recommends using your annual spring clean or council hard-rubbish collection days to check products in your house against ACCC’s recall list.

What to do if you’ve bought a dangerous product

The ACCC spokesperson said you should first contact the seller to outline the issue and let them know how you want it resolved. When you shop with an Australian online business, your usual consumer rights apply, including your right to a repair, replacement, or refund.

If you are buying from an online seller based overseas, it might be difficult to have an issue properly addressed. If writing to them doesn’t work, try asking for help from the consumer protection agency in the seller’s country.

You should also report unsafe products to the ACCC and your local consumer protection agency.