CHOICE membership

The missing ingredient - Products should be made safe before they're sold

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If you've followed my editorials over time, you'll know that I'm an avid cook. What you may not know is that the pursuit of this pastime has occasionally been at my own peril.

Like anybody who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, I’ve had my fair share of knife nicks and minor burns, most of which have healed within a day or two. None of these, however, compare to the time I bumped a bread knife that was close to the edge of the bench, knocking it onto the floor and in the process severing the tendon that runs along the top of my right foot.

Besides a bit of blood, I didn’t realise at the time that I’d caused a serious injury. It was only when I went to put on a pair of thongs the next day that I realised I had lost the ability to hold my big toe up. A subsequent visit to the doctor led to several surgeries and weeks off work.

That injury – like my nicks and burns – was due to pure human carelessness. Since then, I’ve always been careful about where on the bench I place a sharp knife. Unfortunately, not all kitchen injuries are so simple. As our investigation into recalled kitchen products show, common kitchen products continue to be recalled because of the risks they pose to people.

In our work in recent years we’ve highlighted some of the worst examples – such as the Thermomix cooking appliance that caused a number of injuries, including serious burns. That led to a mass incident report to the ACCC, with Thermomix ultimately fined $4.6 million for misleading consumers about the safety risks.

One of the reasons we’re concerned about safety in the kitchen is that the sorts of products that pose safety risks aren’t always obvious. If you’ve followed the recent publicity around the risks of button batteries to children, it may not have occurred to you that you may well be harbouring some of these risks in your kitchen.

Digital kitchen timers and scales are commonly powered by button batteries but there’s no guarantee at the moment that they’ll be adequately secured – meaning that a battery can easily escape and roll away if the product is dropped. While a new mandatory standard for products containing button batteries will address that risk, it should not have been necessary.

Ultimately, we think that the high numbers of injuries and product recalls are enabled by a key gap in our product safety laws. Businesses that make and sell most products aren’t currently required to take precautions to ensure that they are safe before they hit the market. Until we fix that gap, we’ll sadly continue to see people with injuries that, unlike my knife injury, could and should have been prevented.

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It’s a greater failure when one considers we are better protected from unsafe products (plant, equipment, substances) where we work, than in the home or as consumers. Our parliaments have delivered continual improvements to Work Health and Safety through legislation, seem incapable of delivering the same to the wider community.

There’s no acceptable excuse for not giving the greater community better outcomes.

Has anyone detailed how the different legislative requirements compare based on regulation and outcomes?

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Here’s an example of they work in the UK that might be of interest.

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Good luck with that. Our Government has frequently shown its disdain for consumer protection, winding back advances whenever the slightest excuse makes it possible.

This is a Government for big business, and as such will not close the gap until it is shamed into doing so. Even if the gap is closed, they are just as liable to recoil the changes if they can.

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I constantly shudder at the clothing that is a fire hazard being sold, or sold without adequate warning labels. Why do we still have to recall them after sale when the businesses who produce such garments should be made to ensure they all comply and have the necessary warning labels in place before they hit stores.

Not the only thing of course, we have vehicles that are produced that have faults that cause endless recalls eg Mercedes Benz current long list. Then unsafe food, unsafe household equipment and other assorted items…all of which require the purchaser to spend time and money getting the situation fixed. If they want to continue getting customers to take action then there needs to be a requirement that there is financial compensation for that time and effort taken.

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And for me for having developed RSI from posting all the never-ending recall notices.

Double compensation for Mercedes recalls.

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Umm it was a sharp knife! Overhanging your countertop in your kitchen. Knives are sold with a ‘warning’ saying something like “Sharp knife” on the packaging.

Whilst I am sorry you incurred an injury, the blame cannot be placed at the feet of the manufacturer, vendor, or those who develop safety guidelines! (Sorry). Unless the product itself failed, (e.g. the blade detached from the shaft whilst cutting bread, flew into the air and impaled the users foot) in this case it didn’t, there is no case to answer.

Personal responsibility is sadly lacking these days and any mishap is now almost universally deemed to be someone else’s fault. Read labels to find out what the fire rating is on children’s clothing (just remember that almost all clothing material is flammable), stop buying electronic equipment if you are concerned about the battery etc etc etc.

@AlanKirkland clearly blamed himself for his accident.

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There is much of that around but this is not an example.

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I find it hard to make sense of the phrase “unlike my knife injury” in Alan’s post. It implies that the knife injury couldn’t and/or shouldn’t have been prevented. Perhaps it should read “like my knife injury”.

On the issue of button batteries rolling away when an item is dropped, a piece a strong tape placed over the battery compartment cover will greatly reduce this risk.

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I think the point of Choice’s interest is that as consumers we can do lots of things to make products safer (in most cases), but why should we have to when the manufacturer should be doing it.

1,000 consumers might have hundreds of ‘solutions’ some better and some worse. The manufacturer would be expected to ‘get it right’ one way. I personally don’t think that is asking too much.

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On the strict meaning you may be right. I took the “unlike” to be distinguishing between problems caused by manufacturing fault and poor design and by user error.

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“Almost all clothing is flammable”
I am assuming that wool is the least flammable.
Surely it would be preferable to ban the sale of dangerous clothing rather than sell it and assume that everyone who uses it will read the label and be alert to the danger at all times when it’s in use.

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Sticky tape - gaffer tape - masking tape - whatever, are just a bandaid, not a fix. And they get old, grotty, and leave stickiness behind.

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Most, if not all, medical people would confirm that none of the mentioned tapes are a bandaid and would strongly advise against using as such.

My suggestion about tape is relevant to the large number of products already in use that do not have the safeguards set out in the new standard. People unable to cope with the trauma of having tape and/or stickiness present on the underside or rear of kitchen scales and timers are free to seek an alternative solution.

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