Consumer protection agencies ‘powering up’ against non-compliant button batteries products
The ACCC and state and territory consumer protection agencies are ramping up the exercise of their regulatory powers in response to potential non-compliance with the button battery safety and information standards that came into effect a year ago. With this increase in regulatory scrutiny, businesses are encouraged to remain vigilant in compliance with the button batteries standards to avoid facing financial penalties or other sanctions that are set out in further detail below.
The new standards
On 22 June 2022, the mandatory button battery safety and information standards came into effect. These standards are aimed at ensuring that button batteries contained in goods cannot be easily accessed by children and that consumers are warned about their dangers, to reduce the risk of death and injury associated with their use. You can read our previous article about the standards and applicable penalties for non-compliance here.
At the time, the ACCC foreshadowed a national surveillance program, noting that inspectors would be ‘out looking for unsafe products both online and in stores such as discount retailers, variety shops, major retailers, pharmacies, newsagents and at large events.’ As such, businesses were put on notice in relation to the serious penalties that may be imposed for non-compliance.
Findings of national surveillance program
A year on, the ACCC has set out the findings of a national surveillance program conducted by it and the state and territory consumer protection agencies, which focussed on more than 400 businesses. The surveillance program revealed that 34% of products containing the batteries and 28% of packs of button batteries did not include mandatory warning information or symbols.
Over the last year, the ACCC and consumer protection agencies have taken various steps to address suspected non-compliance including:
- issuing infringement notices;
- seizing products;
- negotiating voluntary recalls; and
- issuing warnings to companies that failed to comply with the standards.
The ACCC’s first enforcement outcomes for suspected non-compliance with button battery standards were enshrined through infringement notices issued to The Reject Shop and Dusk:
- The Reject Shop: After being issued with an infringement notice by the ACCC, The Reject Shop paid $133,200 for allegedly failing to test two models of its novelty Halloween LED pumpkin product to confirm they complied with the mandatory safety standard before sale (although following the ACCC’s infringement notice, The Reject Shop tested the products and they were found to comply). The Reject Shop also provided the ACCC with a commitment to strengthen existing compliance procedures and provide further training for staff.
- Dusk: Dusk paid $106,560 in response to infringement notices from the ACCC and admitted in an enforceable undertaking that four novelty, Halloween-themed products it supplied between August and October 2022 were not tested to the relevant standard and that it had failed to include the safety warnings and information, as required by the mandatory safety standard. Dusk also undertook to implement a compliance program for three years to ensure similar conduct was not repeated in the future.
Consumer Protection WA, the consumer protection agency of the Western Australian government, has also been active in this space:
- In September 2022, Consumer Protection WA identified 34 non-compliant items at the Perth Royal Show. The majority of these items were alleged to have breached requirements for the batteries to be contained in secure compartments and to have passed compliance testing prior to supply.
- In February 2023, Consumer Protection WA also undertook separate inspections across Albany to check whether retailers and motor vehicle repairers and dealers were complying with standards. The product safety inspections identified that 15 items powered by button batteries were incorrectly labelled and failed to display the correct warnings to consumers.
A reminder for businesses
The ACCC and other consumer protection agencies have signalled that they are committed to investigating and taking action against potentially non-compliant businesses, as reflected through their national surveillance program and enforcement action.
More broadly, the ACCC maintains a strong enforcement focus on product safety, particularly for products that are marketed to young children. As such, businesses who provide goods containing button batteries, including online suppliers, should ensure that they are following the mandatory standards, particularly on compliance testing.
This post was written by Maeve Moore and Wilson Huang.