About to import products from China to Australia or New Zealand? Ensuring compliance with mandatory safety standards should not come as an afterthought, but be the core focus when importing any consumer product to Australia.
Importing non-compliant products to Australia is an offense, which may not only result in a forced recall, but fines counted in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In other words, you only got one chance to get it right. Keep reading, to learn what every Australian importer must know about product safety:
- Which products are regulated in Australia?
- What is an AS/NZS standard?
- How do I know which AS/NZS safety standards apply to my product?
- How do I verify that a product conforms to a certain AS/NZS standard?
- Do I need to get my products lab tested?
- Who is responsible for ensuring compliance?
- Non-compliances fines and penalties
Which products are regulated in Australia?
Several product categories, ranging from bicycle helmets and sunglasses to children’s toys, are regulated by a set of mandatory product safety standards. While there are also voluntary standards, we focus on the mandatory standards in this article. The following product categories are regulated, by at least one safety standard, in Australia and New Zealand:
- Animals & agriculture
- Baby & nursery
- Boats & marine
- Clothing & accessories
- Fire & flammables
- Food & groceries
- Furniture, homewares & window furnishings
- Gas & electrical appliances
- Hardware & building materials
- Health & cosmetics
- Household chemicals
- Spas, pools & swimming
- Sports & recreation
- Tobacco & smoking accessories
- Vehicles & accessories
The Australian government lists all categories, to which mandatory safety standards apply, on Product Safety Australia. On this portal, you’ll find all mandatory product safety regulations and applicable AS/NZS standards.
What is an AS/NZS standard?
AS/NZS is an acronym for Australian/New Zealand Standard, which is applicable in both Australia and New Zealand. AS/NZS standards are generally similar to the European Union and US standards, such as EN and ASTM.
AS/NZS standards are often referred to in product safety regulations. For example, bicycle helmets are covered by Trade Practices (Consumer Product Safety Standards) Regulations 2001—Bicycle Helmets, which in turn requires importers and domestic manufacturers to ensure that the helmets comply with AS/NZS 2063:2008 – Bicycle helmets.
AS/NZS, in turn, set technical requirements, covering various safety, testing and performance aspects. As I will explain later in this article, it’s crucial to fully understand what all relevant AS/NZS standards really mean for your product.
That said, not all AS/NZS standards cover product safety. AS/NZS 1957:1998 Textiles – Care labelling, for instance, sets mandatory standards for clothing care labels.
How do I know which AS/NZS safety standards apply to my product?
You’ll find all mandatory safety standards on the Product Safety Australia website. A detailed list, covering more than 30 product categories can be found.
Once you’ve identified a relevant category, you’ll find a detailed overview of all applicable product regulations, including AS/NZS standards:
- List of AS/NZS standards
- Exclusions (if any)
- Safety labelling (if any)
- Related recalls
- Documentation requirements (if any)
Note that some products are more strictly regulated than others. While textiles are only covered by mandatory care labeling requirements, the requirements are stricter when it comes to children’s products.
Further, some mandatory safety standards only apply to specific products, such as Portable swimming pools, while others cover a broader range of products – such ‘Toys for children up to and including 36 months of age’.
How do I verify that a product conforms to a certain AS/NZS standard?
As an importer, you must not only refer to AS/NZS in your purchase order but fully understand the scope of all applicable AS/NZS standards.
AS/NZS generally cover various safety and quality aspects of a product:
- Testing methods
- Design and construction
Design and construction refer to requirements covering the shape, form, physical properties (e.g. tearing and lose parts) and material of a product.
Labelling refers to mandatory safety and warning labels
Testing methods explain how an authorized product testing lab should verify that the product conforms with the design and construction requirements.
OEM and ODM Products
When importing custom designed (OEM) products, AS/NZS compliance starts on the drawing board. In order to ensure that a product can pass lab testing, it must be ‘designed for compliance’ – which is why you need to fully understand how the relevant AS/NZS standard ‘impacts’ both design and material selection.
Private label (ODM) products are a bit different, as they are based on existing product design and material specification. As such, importers of private label products must make a compliance assessment based on a product sample, rather than implementing the AS/NZS standard at a design stage.
Do I need to get my products lab tested?
Yes, lab testing is mandatory for many products, as a method of verifying that the product is compliant with all mandatory safety standards. Lab testing shall only be carried out by accredited testing companies.
The testing procedure itself is straightforward.
You must submit a product sample, and confirm which AS/NZS standards the test shall be based on. Once the testing company has received the sample, they will carry out the testing procedure according to the relevant safety standard, and create a lab test report.
This lab test report is used to prove that your product is compliant.
Can I trust that my supplier in China fully understands all applicable product regulations in Australia?
One of the most common mistakes made by importers is assuming that their factory is some sort of compliance expert. That is absolutely not the case.
When established brands order products from a Chinese manufacturer, they hand over a ready-made product specification, already designed for product compliance. In most cases, the supplier has no part in the product compliance process.
Smaller buyers, on the other hand, often imagine the factory as a one-stop-shop, covering everything from design and manufacturing to product safety and labeling.
In reality, most Chinese factories don’t even know what an AS/NZS standard is.
And why should they?
They aren’t compliance agencies. It’s simply not their job.
Who is responsible for ensuring compliance with mandatory safety standards?
Ensuring compliance with all mandatory safety standards is the sole responsibility of the Australian importer – not the Chinese factory. As such, it’s critical that you follow this checklist before importing anything into Australia:
1. Confirm all mandatory product safety regulations
2. Confirm all relevant AS/NZS standards
3. Carefully study the technical requirements of all relevant AS/NZS standards
4. Apply the technical requirements (design, materials etc) to your product design
5. Submit your product for AS/NZS lab testing before mass production
You only got one chance to get this right.
What can happen if I import non-compliant products to Australia?
The Australian government is very clear when it comes to product safety violations. As explained on their website, the maximum fines are counted in the hundreds of thousands of dollars:
A supplier may be found guilty of a criminal offence if they fail to comply with a mandatory safety or information standard. The maximum fine is:
- AU$500 000 for individuals
For a body corporate, the greater of:
- AU$10 000 000
- three times the value of the benefit received, or
- 10% of annual turnover in the preceding 12 months, if a court cannot determine the benefit obtained from the offence.
As I mentioned, the Australian government will not let you go free because you are not the original manufacturer of the product. As an importer bringing products to Australia, you are therefore classified as the supplier – in which case these fines are applicable.
However, there’s, of course, a big difference between honest misunderstandings concerning minor labeling and design aspects – and intentionally importing and selling unsafe products.
What if there are no mandatory safety standards for my product?
Mandatory product safety standards only apply to a relatively limited range of products. It’s simply not practical to regulate every single possible safety hazard for all products.
However, the Australian government still has the right to force product recalls for any unsafe product – regardless of whether or not mandatory product safety standards apply.
For example, a wristwatch should not have sharp edges or irritate the skin, and a bathroom carpet should not be a slippery death trap.
As such, it’s critical to consider general product safety at a product design stage, or when assessing a private product label samples – regardless of whether or not mandatory standards exist for your product.
This is of course not the case only for importers based in Australia, but worldwide.
Note that there are thousands of non-mandatory AS (Australian Standards) that you can use for reference when designing your product.
We’re based in Australia, but selling internationally. Which regulations do we need to comply with?
Product compliance is not based on where you’re headquartered, but the destination country. For example, we work with many Australian businesses selling on Amazon.com in the United States – in which case the customer must ensure compliance with American product safety standards, rather than Australian.
This is also the case if you intend to sell products in the European Union, which has its own set of mandatory regulations, labeling, and document requirements.
Product safety is perhaps not the most exciting topic. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely critical to fully understand and implement all mandatory AS/NZS safety standards.
The alternative is to risk fines, counted in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Do you need help to ensure compliance with all mandatory safety standards?
We know how hard it can be to get a grip on product safety standards, labeling, documents, and lab testing. To help startups get a grip on the process, and avoid crippling fines and forced product recalls – we created the Starter Package:
a. An overview of product safety standards in the United States, Europe, Australia & more
b. Mandatory document sample files
c. Product labeling template files
d. Checklists that guide you step-by-step through the entire compliance process
In addition, you can also book quality inspections, lab testing and shipping directly from the platform. Click here to learn more.